By D'atra Franklin
Last night I cried for what seemed like forever. I cried for all the times I was misunderstood. For the times I was left alone. For all the times I was hurt. I cried because I was so different from my friends. Being different made me feel alone, and maybe if I could be more like them, I could be happy. But how could I make myself like everybody else and still be true to me? It was so confusing. Why wouldn’t my tears cease to fall from my bloodshot eyes?
From the time I was seven and I lost my mother, I felt different. I felt like my being on this earth was for a reason and that I was destined to do something great with my life. I did not fit in with my family. I spoke different, and I thought different. I had goals that no one could fathom. How stupid that a child would dream of saving the world, a world that she had not yet even experienced. But that would all change on my 14th birthday.
I was abused emotionally, mentally, and physically at the hands of people who were supposed to guide me in the right direction, love me unconditionally, and help me to reach my goals, encourage, and never neglect me. Instead, I was emotionally abandoned. My childhood was taken from me. I was made to clean, cook, and take care of my infant sister and brother. I wasn’t a child learning to live; I was a slave with no worth in my own home. I had to leave, and I thought that any place on earth was better than living with my father and stepmother. Whether it was homeless or in a shelter, I knew I deserved to be treated better.
When I was fourteen, I ran away from home. I didn’t have anywhere to go, and I didn’t know what I was going to do, but one last strike of my stepmother's hand drove me into the streets of West Palm Beach, and the streets were no place for a fourteen-year-old girl. But I didn’t care, and I fled that hellhole so the voice inside of me, crying out for something better, wouldn’t die.
I lived with extended family members and a few friends until I found a shelter that would take me in. I lived in that shelter on and off for three years. It was home. I felt loved there. I made friends, and I even got a job. However, school was suffering, and I had to start anew and focus on school. When I was seventeen, I went into a more stable group home environment and lived there until I was eighteen. I was so happy there I actually got to celebrate Christmas, something other kids took for granted, but to me it was new and amazing. I was finally in a stable living environment.
And here I am now, at a job that I love in the social work field, where I’ve been asked many times; “Why do you want to be a social worker?” The answer is quite simple. I want to be a social worker because I have a passion and need to help people. My passion stems from years of abuse and neglect. My need comes from knowing that changing the world starts with helping one person and being able to empathize with them. I have been in their shoes. I want to be a social worker because it feels right. I enjoy seeing the smiles on kids' faces when they get to see their parents or family members who they haven’t seen in weeks, months, and even years.Those smiles are what make my pain and sad experiences tolerable.
I can say that being a social worker was never in my plans. I wanted to be a high school history teacher, and I thought I could change the world by sparking the love of learning in children, making history come alive. But then I took a job in the social work field, and I instantly knew that this is what I was meant to do. This is what makes me different. All over the world, there is and will always be abuse. That’s the reality of it, but here I am working toward changing a child’s reality one day at a time, changing my knowledge one class at a time, and changing my life one step at a time. It all starts with me, and while I may not be able to save the entire world, I saved myself and by saving myself, I will be able to save others.
D'atra Franklin's mother died when she was a young child, requiring her to take care of herself from an early age. She moved from relative to relative and friend to friend, which forced her to become self-sufficient to survive and eventually go into foster care as a teen. She aged out of care and became independent. She then enrolled in college, graduated with her associate's degree, and went on to Florida Atlantic University to earn her bachelor's degree. She loves to write, read, and dance.