Written by: Kathleen Shriver
In Washington DC, Smith did not let the girls leave her home unless they were walking directly to the car. That short walk outside with her girls were the worst 2-minutes of her day. “I could hear my heart beat and I started to get panic attacks.”
Smith is a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington D.C. and when she is not in the hospital, she runs a hair salon in her home. Smith graduated from Crossland High School with her certification in 2006 and has been working full-time ever since. She says that she is always on her feet at the hospital. “The less you do, the more you get paid,” she says. She does all the grunt work for the nurse, who does all of the grunt work for the doctor. If minimum wage goes up to $15, a McDonald’s employee will be paid the same salary as Smith. “That’s why I gotta keep moving. I ain’t gonna stop until I reach the top”.
The top for Smith means more than just receiving a neo-natal nurse practitioner license. It means staying strong, yet humble. It means keeping her children safe and in school. It means keeping herself out of jail.
Smith used to be a fighter. She would hit kids who made fun of her in grade school.
“They would tell me I’m too small and little, mess with me, you know,” she says. “They talk, but when it’s time to go down, it’s going down. I whoop them. They knew not to mess with me again,” she says. She fought hate with hate. She used her fists to combat the isolation she felt. When Smith graduated from school and started dating seriously, she realized that she had to make changes to survive. She stopped fighting. “I went to therapy and I won’t go to jail”. For the first time, Smith tried to find peace within herself, and in turn, find peace with others.
Smith has been dating her boyfriend for eight years and the couple share twin 7-year-old girls. She currently has no plans to get married. “I’m not waiting for anyone. I keep moving, best believe.” The family of four lived in South East DC for 6 years, until Smith moved them into College Park, Maryland. She could not stand those 2-minute walks to the car anymore. She could not stand to put her girls in danger.
“My kids can play now. They can go outside and play,” she says.
The gang violence in her DC home was constant. Smith saw homicides weekly and the family became accustomed to the sounds of gunshots during the night.
“I wanna be different,” she says. “I want to stand out”. Ikea Smith says she will stand out when she gets rid of her belly. After having twins, she has been working to get her “sexy figure” back. Like so many of us, Smith clearly doesn’t realize that she is already incredibly different and unique.
What makes Smith different? She thinks that her looks will distinguish her. Her figure will make her stand out. Maybe it will. From an outsider’s perspective, her patience and resilience are exceptional. Smith loves her children. She respects those around her. She smiles. She works tirelessly and she does not complain. She is resilient.
Smith should remind all of us to recognize those rare qualities in ourselves that make us different. We are all so incredibly different and our unique characters are irreplaceable. Our characters are shaped by our experience, but our experiences do not create us. We do not need more experiences to be individuals and we do not need to change ourselves to be individuals. We just need to make a decision. We need to decide to recognize our differences. We need to decide to accept ourselves and in doing so, accept our neighbors. If we can connect with our own feelings, we will connect naturally in social environments. The social connectedness of our communities will flourish.
Smith inspired me. As she took care of my aunt at the hospital, her steady patience and her big smile were inspiring. Her big smile will be light in the world, constantly reminding us of the strength and love we all have to share and to receive. Smith loves to meet new people. Every time she meets someone knew, she gets to laugh and smile. Why? She gets to tell her joke. “Yes, my name is like the store…and they won’t even give me a discount!”
As a freelance writer for the SocialConnectedness.org website, Kathleen Shriver is bringing a youth voice and perspective to the movement. Kathleen is a recent graduate from Boston College with a background in communications, journalism, and film. She has experience as a camp counsellor and community programs coordinator along with a range of support roles with organizations including the Newseum, the Forger, and Grey Advertising. Kathleen has a passion for promoting inclusion through Unified Sports with Special Olympics where she has volunteered in the US, Greece, and Nicaragua. She loves to play tennis and appreciates the art of spreading the word for causes through social media.