If I were to give advice to the little girl that never stood up to anyone and felt alone much of her life, I would tell her that it’s not her fault. I would encourage her to take heart and stay hopeful. Looking at me now, people can’t see that I was a quiet little girl who was constantly bullied. But just because that part of me is faded, doesn’t mean it’s gone. I never forget my past because it helped me become the person I am today.
I was born in Dayton, Ohio, to two young parents who were only dating at the time of my conception. In fact, they had broken up before I was even born. My father left my mother to raise me and though I still got to visit him, I was raised primarily by my mother.
My mother is brilliant. She has a Master’s degree in African American Studies and another Master’s in Women Studies, and she has worked as an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati. With my mother as a professor, I was used to being in an academic environment and became very mature for my age. I spoke differently from my peers because I was used to speaking with adults, so kids often made fun of me. I was known as the quiet, weird girl that preferred books over people, with interests that deviated the norm. At the age of five I had written my first poem, which became a therapeutic practice.
From first grade until my junior year of high school, I was bullied into thinking I was worthless. My mother raised me in a free-spirited household that left a lot of room for creative pursuits that kids my age didn’t like to do for fun. Though I was free to explore my passions, my mother kept me from a lot of mainstream media. She banned me from watching MTV and BET after I attempted to reenact the Britney Spears’ “Baby, One More Time” music video at the age of three. This made me out of touch with a lot of modern topics that my peers discussed. I also had a lot of food allergies including peanuts, which made me stand out even more. All these factors made me a target for bullies. One boy went as far as threatening me with his peanut butter crackers in elementary school.
When I was nine, my mother and I moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania so she could begin a new job. It required a lot of traveling, so I spent a lot of time staying at other people’s houses while she was gone. In Harrisburg, I went to a school that was racially heterogeneous, but surprisingly racist. I had trouble fitting in because I wasn’t considered “black enough” because of my interests. I mostly made friends with white students, but even those friends spat many racist comments towards me because they thought they were harmless. This school was hard because I didn’t fit comfortably into any of the groups defined.
I didn’t see a bright future in Harrisburg, so I moved back to Dayton a week before I turned 17. My mom stayed behind for her work, and I moved in with my grandparents. My grandparents knew how much I loved to write and suggested that I go to the local art school to pursue creative writing.
Creative writing has been a skill in my family for generations. My grandma and mother never got to pursue it because it wasn’t an option for a profession that would make enough money to provide for their family. Perhaps their sacrifices encouraged my success. My grandparents were well-known in Dayton, since both had been ex-prison guards and members of the clergy—they knew everyone. Through their connections, they heard about this art-focused high school. I auditioned and got accepted. I went to this school for the end of my junior year and my senior year.
This school was different from the others. I felt like I belonged there. It was also the first predominantly black high school in the area. The program shaped me into the writer I am today. I wouldn’t have grown so much if it wasn’t for my teacher Mr. Steinmetz. He cared about his students and was a great confidant for me. He’s the person that showed me my potential as a writer and motivated me to pursue it in college. I was one of the last students that he directly mentored because he passed away a year after I graduated high school.
After high school, I went to Northern Kentucky University, declaring a major in Sociology with a pre-law focus, intent to become a divorce lawyer. Within a few months, I realized that this major wasn’t bringing me happiness or a sense of passion. I was interested in creative writing, but I felt guilty. I wanted to help others. I asked my family for their opinions. The most memorable response came from my grandma who told me, “you don’t have to have a degree in being a good person, to be a good person.” This was enough to convince me to change to English. Through the English program I learned how to take and give criticism well. Knowing how to develop a thick skin and a discerning ear is important in becoming a writer and a person. Writing is partly about exposing your soul. To do so, you must be bold.
In college, I grew close to my roommate Syreeta. I had other friendships before her, but none with as much depth. I had been bullied so much that I had decided that I wasn’t meant to have close friends, and that the idea of platonic loyalty was a myth. However, Syreeta was understanding and loyal, unlike others I’d known. Despite my efforts to push her away, Syreeta continued to pursue our friendship. She and I are still best friends today.
She studied playwriting, so we’d often brainstorm for ideas and inspiration. She also wrote poetry in a unique style I wasn’t used to. At one point, we started an all-black spoken-word poetry group called SWERVE. She motivated me to be a better writer and became the reason my writing was strengthened at such an alarming rate. I was able to better express my experiences.
Newfound friendships couldn’t fully heal the scars from my past. The summer before my junior year, I was put on anti-depressants, something I think should have happened long before it did. When I look back, I see difficult moments as a kid that weren’t normal. I was likely undiagnosed since age six. Writing and books were the tools used in my youth to escape from the dark thoughts I had. The medication was also for my anxiety. I noticed a drastic change in me from the medication. The fear that I held inside wasn’t as overwhelming anymore, rather, it was manageable. I was no longer afraid to speak my mind. But I had never lived a life where I wasn’t constantly terrified, and I didn’t know how to deal with it.
My writing did suffer at first. Writing used to be my medication, and now that I was medicated, my creativity was stifled. I only wrote when I had to for assignments. Instead of coping with life through writing, I started doing so through dating. I broke off a two-and-a-half-year long relationship and started over. I didn’t give myself a chance to breathe. I didn’t stop until I got my heart broken my senior year by a boy I’d grown to care deeply about. Through the heartbreak, I turned back to poetry. I remembered the liberating feeling from writing and found the spark again. On paper, I was bolder than I had ever been.
On a weekend night while Syreeta and I were walking to our dorm, I realized that I was fearless beyond poems and prose. Two girls on one of the higher floors had their windows open and saw us coming up the sidewalk. Thinking we wouldn’t do anything, they started yelling the n-word at us. After dealing with all the blatant racism from Harrisburg, I was fed up. I dawned my new boldness and marched up to their door. As my hands were banging on the door, a barrage of curse words escaped my mouth. When someone finally opened the door, stepped inside the room and yelled until their faces lost all color. I had terrified them. This moment made me realize just how far I’d come from the quiet, introverted person that spent the first 18 years of her life letting people bully her without fighting back. I felt liberated.
I graduated from college in 2017 and looked toward my future. I eventually started working as an assistant for my mother through Women of Color Network Incorporated (WOCN INC) in Cincinnati, Ohio. We aid female-identifying people dealing with domestic violence.
If I’m being honest, I never thought I’d make it this far in my life. Dealing with crippling anxiety and depression my whole life, I thought I would have committed suicide by now. I am thankful for each day I’m here, even if some are hard. Being put on medication to help balance my emotions helped me a lot. It was also thanks to my friends and family that I found a better sense of purpose. I’m still here, alive and doing something I care about through my job. I am thankful because I am bold.
-This is the story of Jamila Lovelace-
Jamila currently lives in Cincinnati. She grew up getting bullied and put down for being herself, but as she grew up she became a bolder person thanks to her college experiences. Jamila loves watching classic movies and reading in her spare time. She’s currently taking a hiatus on writing while she focuses on work. She hopes to go back to school to become a college creative writing professor someday. She wants to give kids a stronger one-on-one experience. She loves historical biographies. One of her favorite books is Memoirs of a Geisha. A few of her favorite poets include Lucille Clifton and T.S. Eliot. She is also often inspired by Zadie Smith. In September of 2017, she started dating her current partner, whom she’s become very fond of. Jamila hopes to one day inspire students to become stronger writers through teaching.
This story first touched our hearts on March 13, 2018.