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Ayden, North Carolina, in the projects, on Belvedere Ct. to be exact...

Last weekend I went back to my hometown of Ayden, NC for my cousin’s wedding. Once again, I had an amazing time with my family and of course we had a great time dancing at the reception and even took it back to the old days with a breakout performance to New Edition’s “If it isn’t love”. I didn’t get to hit the ‘Quan’ but it was a wonderful time and my cousin and his new bride were very happy.

Prior to moving to DC with my mom, I was raised in Ayden by my grandmother (Queenie Esther) and her two best friends/neighbors- Ms. Lillian and Ms. Julia Mae, in the projects, on Belvedere Ct. to be exact. What’s odd is that I had no idea we lived in the projects. If I heard the term, I certainly didn’t know what it meant. I don’t remember lacking anything, I had ample space to play, great friends, the most amazing home cooked meals, and I was surrounded by positive women that loved me. I felt loved and heard the words “I love you” multiple times a day.

The core of who I am today is as a result of what I saw and experienced while living in Ayden, in the projects, on Belvedere Ct. to be exact.

I learned to serve in Ayden. My grandmother served everyone! She fed other kids in the neighborhood, served on multiple boards and committees at the church, and she also served other families in a role quite similar to that of Viola Davis in ‘The Help’. I watched her serve. I knew her heart for serving others and the value of service was instilled in me at a very young age. I actually committed to my first service project when I was in the 2nd grade. My friend Taylor and I made friendship bracelets, sold them to students and teachers, and donated the money raised to the Ronald McDonald House in Greenville, NC.  Over the years I have received several awards like the Women of Color in Technology (WOC)-All Star award which is an award reserved for accomplished women of color at an advanced stage of their careers that have demonstrated excellence in the workplace and in their communities but it all started in Ayden, in the projects, on Belvedere Ct. to be exact.

I learned the value of the village as a family in Ayden. When I went outside to play, there was someone from the village looking out for me. If I was on Sunset Dr., it was Trevoya’s Grandma, Von’s mom, or Ms. Winnie. If I even looked like, I thought about, crossing the street to enter “Woodcrest”, the forbidden area, Ms. Viola would yell out her window to let me know that she had my grandmother on the phone. Woodcrest was off limits because apparently there was ‘too much going on down there’ according to my grandmother. I learned later in life that she was referring to drug activities. My Aunt Ann picked grandma and I up for church, Cousin Vivian took us to the grocery store, and Aunt Gracie took us shopping. Ms. Lois Ann had four or five kids of her own but my friends Crystal, Ashley, Erika, and I were a part of her crew. She would take us all on bike rides across town to the 3rd St. Park, she organized baseball and kickball games in the neighborhood, and was always down to jump rope with us, although she was a little double-handled. If you don’t know what double-handed means, shame on you. In my adult life, I am blessed to be a part of many villages- helping to raise children just like those that were a part of my village, in Ayden, in the projects, on Belvedere Ct. to be exact.

I learned to appreciate math in Ayden. Mrs. Morgan and Mrs. White were my favorite teachers at Ayden Elementary School. They made learning fun and always pushed me to try harder, especially at math. It was in their classroom that I began to appreciate the subject which became the catalyst for my career as a software engineer. And later on when I spent hours in the evening teaching math to GED students, I remembered to make math relatable and to keep it fun. I was recognized by Women In Technology (WIT) for my work as a software engineer and biometrics subject matter expert but it all started in Ayden, in the projects, on Belvedere Ct. to be exact.

I also learned the value of friendship in Ayden. I have friendships that have spanned 30+ years that started in Ayden. What I’ve learned from those friendships is that to be a friend to someone doesn’t necessarily mean that you speak to them all the time but what it does mean is you are there when it counts and matters most. When my grandmother died, the first face I saw when I walked out of the church was Crystal W., my longtime friend from kindergarten. I hadn’t seen her in at least five or six years but she was there and I am eternally grateful. And although my dear friend Trevoya and I were separated for many years, when we connected again it was like we hadn’t skipped a beat. I was there with her when she took her last breath and I now carry her heart in my heart.  

I’m not ashamed of any part of my life and a lot of what some would perceive as a disadvantage has propelled me to succeed.

I consider it a blessing that I was raised in Ayden, North Carolina, in the projects, on Belvedere Ct. to be exact.