On October 23, Sharon Williams spoke at The Women’s Foundation’s 2013 Leadership Luncheon. The following are her remarks. After speaking, Sharon received a Visionary Award for her commitment to improving the lives of women and their families. Please click here to learn more about the Visionary Awards and click here to see a video featuring Sharon and her story.
Good afternoon everyone- It is kind of strange seeing myself up there on the big screen. As I listen to myself talk – it really does remind me of how much my life has changed. You saw a little of my story in the video, and I’d like to share a bit more with you now.
Upwards of 10 years ago, my life was very different. I spent a lot time asking God, “Why me?”
I was in high school – 10th grade to be exact when I had my first child. I’m not sure if I was afraid – but I can tell you that I was more determined than ever to be and make a difference for my child. Part of that difference was getting married – which I did at 17. By the time I was 21 years old, I had two children, my own successful daycare business, three vehicles and I purchased my first home – with a white picket fence. I decided that having a daycare was the best thing because I wanted to spend time with my children and everything that I did was for them.
That all sounds nice, but my personal situation was not good, but as I look back on it now I still feel like I made the right decisions especially with the cards that I had been dealt.
And then – life happened. I got divorced. I closed my business – moved out of my home into an apartment– shared custody of my children and I felt cheated. I began to ask God, “Why me? I’ve done my best – I’ve tried so hard to be a better person and now look!”
I was getting frustrated with life itself and something within me stirred up like a fire and once again – I wanted to make this situation better for my children.
I began taking classes at Prince George’s Community College. I learned about the Next Step Training and Education Program and I wanted to try it out.
This was one of the best decisions that I could have made. The Next Step program not only assisted me with tuition but I was also given additional supportive services and tools to aid in my future success. One of the most rewarding on the most rewarding gift that I took away from the program is a lifelong mentor in Cecelia Knox, the program’s director.
Once I was accepted into the nursing program I was ecstatic! You would have thought that I hit the Powerball ten times over – and I don’t even play the lottery!
I want you to understand how huge it was for me to go back to school. College was never a goal for me. So you can imagine how shocked I was not only to be back in school… not only to be passing all of my classes… but getting a 4.0 GPA!
I must say to you all – and especially Cecelia – I am so grateful that the Next Step program was in place to assist me when life happened. What do I mean by “life happening?” What I mean is this: When circumstances place you in situations beyond your immediate control. No two situations are the same, and I know everyone in this room can relate to that.
Next Step put me back in control. You see life wasn’t just happening to me but it was I that decided what life would be.
For me, that meant becoming a registered nurse at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center. It meant an opportunity to provide my children with more stability and security. It meant taking advantage of opportunities to travel the world – and I have.
I received a full scholarship to Notre Dame of MD University to complete my Bachelor’s Degree. I traveled to Australia and South Africa – learning about their health care systems and volunteering with TB clinics and HIV orphanages. I visited Nelson Mandela’s prison cell – I walked in his garden – I strolled in the limestone quarry – just like he did.
But what made a most lasting effect on me was my visit to a nursing home – because that’s where I met Mrs. Christian. She was a proud elderly South African woman who grew up in the brutality of apartheid.
I sat at her feet as she told our group about seeing the horrors of families being ripped apart and how she stood on the front line with the activists in fight to end to apartheid. Although her comments were towards the group as a whole – she looked into my eyes as she spoke – and I found myself once again asking God, “Why me?”
“I have fought for you to be free,” she said. “And you are under obligation to take advantage of the education available to you and use it to better yourself, your family and your community!”
And she told me – me – that she was proud of me and in that moment my priorities in life changed and my thinking changed and I made a conscious effort to see greatness in others.
I began to believe within myself that if given the opportunity – people living in less than ideal conditions and having less than ideal situations could and would do great things – and honestly my friends – that is the belief that NSTEP had in me.
As a Registered Nurse I have helped a lot of people old and young alike and I have found babies to be the most interesting species of them all.
Some of them come out kicking and screaming and ready to run for the world and others are born not so active. They need extra attention – maybe some oxygen and a sternal rub in order to get them to breathe – to get their arms flailing and their legs kicking so they too can be ready to run for the world.
It’s that way for adults sometimes too – Some are fortunate enough to have had a background and upbringing that allowed them to take off running – while Others need that sternal rub so to speak to help us breath again and give us the strength to stand up and take off for the world as it were – And when we do – it’s a beautiful thing.
It’s been about two years now since my trip to South Africa and I have worked hard to help others. I know that I have encouraged and inspired others to go back to school. I often have the privilege of returning to Prince George’s Community College to speaking with women in orientation for the Next Step program and I listen to their stories – I listen to their hopes and dreams without judgment – because I remember being in their seat.
Today, I work roughly 10 miles from where I grew up. Knowing my history – knowing where I come from and where I am now has caused me to ask at times: Am I one in a million? A needle in a haystack – No. There are many success stories emerging from the streets of S.E. Washington, DC just like mine. How? Because we have been given an opportunity and found someone to believe in us more than we believed in ourselves and for me – that was Cecelia Knox and Ms. Myrtle Christian.
Today, my conversations with God are very different. I say a humbled thank you for my 22-year-old son who is my pride and joy – for my 20-year-old daughter who completed high school at 15 years old and is now is studying to become a child psychologist… and for my 11-year-old daughter who is smart and so talented and plays the violin exceptionally well!
Today, I say thank you to God for the courage to keep my head up despite adversity and for allowing me to become an example for those who have the potential to succeed although they may not even realize it – yet.
I’m thankful for the opportunity to be with you fine people today and have you hear my story. I am grateful that The Women’s Foundation invests in places like Prince George’s Community College – a place that has assisted me in my present and future successes – and hopefully I have been able to show you that what appears to be impossible is possible.
Today, I place you all under obligation to take advantage of what is before you and join me in making our community better than it was yesterday.