I am committed to building a career in social services. After nearly eighteen years of being a beneficiary of them, I'm convinced my life's purpose will be best served by becoming a social worker and trying to improve an overwhelmed, slow-moving system.
I am compelled by this field because I believe the social workers who intervened with my family saved my life. I was born to a single mother in South Detroit and lived alone with her in an abandoned, condemned old building. We shared a small 9 x 12 foot bedroom with a woman my mother new from McDonald's, who kept an eye on me while my mother searched for food, clothing, and other basic items we needed. My mother was mentally ill, and began to disappear from our room for extensive periods of time. She was erratic in her moods and her commitment to me, but I loved her with all my heart.
Finally, when I was 4, she disappeared for good.
As fond as our roommate was of me, she was homeless herself and not inclined to take on the awesome responsibility of raising a child. I was taken by a social worker named Mary to an intake facility and subjected to the first physical exam of my life. Mary stayed with me while her colleagues scrubbed my lean black arms of residual filth and pulled dozens of lice off my head. I never forgot my fear that day as my body was stripped and cleaned and finally released. I'd never had a real bath before. It was then a long three months in a county rehab facility where I was fed, clothed and retrained to live as a functioning human being.
To describe myself as an animal at that point would be charitable. I was...