We’ve been through a lot together over the last 18 years, you and I.
I discovered a whole new level of nervous anticipation when I learned of your impending arrival. I never knew that twelve long hours of excruciating pain could feel like twelve long days, yet all of it be forgotten in the blink of an eye the moment I first held you.
We forged new schedules, new habits, a new life rhythm, clinging to what worked, discarding what did not.
You were two when we had to learn about single parenthood, and doing this thing on our own. You were four when we met our new life partner, and learned that we were no longer on our own.
I watched you being led down the hospital hallway in your little gown, your tiny six-year-old hand tucked into the nurse’s, and sent up a silent plea of protection as your tonsils were removed. Ice cream and popsicles saw us through recovery.
I reached a new depth of heartache as I had to explain your step-grandpa’s suicide to you later that same year.
The birds and the bees soon explained your new baby brother’s arrival. You found a new sense of pride in bringing me diapers and feeding him cereal. I discovered that I could, in fact, handle two.
You became a teenager the year we first learned of your stepdad’s illness, and turned fifteen when we moved to be closer to his family because of it. We again forged new schedules, new friendships, a new way of life. Babysitting for your brother and long doctor’s visits became the norm.
I became a caregiver in a whole different way. You became resilient, yet understanding, agreeing to delay that important teenage rite of passage — getting your driver’s license— until we had settled into our new routines.
You rediscovered your love of cars and trucks this year, taking college-level auto tech courses to prepare for your next life stage. You have agreed to delay your college career as we continue to battle your stepdad’s illness.
I am in constant, silent awe of your selflessness, your patience, your fierce protectiveness, and your joy for life’s simplest things. This year, you will be eighteen. An adult.
You are ready.
I am immensely proud to call you my son.
Through you, I have learned the true meaning of unconditional love.
I think every girl at one point in their life comes to the realization that they’ve become like their mother. Most people meet this realization, however, with much hesitation and anguish. Many resent the idea of becoming like their mothers. While I’m only 18, I realize I have become my mother and wish I was even more so. This is for you, Mom. Thank you for all the things you passed to me, but especially for all the things you didn’t.
Thank you for teaching me to take everything with a grain of salt, and not to read into the situation too much (even when you really want to). I’ll always be grateful that you made me a fighter instead of a follower. Thank you for teaching me to go after my dreams, and for never questioning your daughter’s future plans, especially as a broadcast major. Thank you for letting me know that if these plans don’t end up working out, you’ll support me every step of the way.
Thank you for being my friend when I need it, but always being my mom (you know what I mean). Thank you for proofreading every paper, for making me work hard, and telling me to stop worrying about my grades so much.
Mom, I wish I could have your sense of humor. I strive every single day to carry myself with the confidence that you do. I love that you’re always the life of the party, and I love that you know how to have fun.
I wish I could have your knack for reading people, and wish I could cook like you. You’ll never understand how highly I think of you, and how much I wish to be just like you, even though I already am somewhat.
While this entire post may seem cliché, and everyone may swear their mom is the best, I know that my mom and I have something uniquely special that absolutely cannot be replaced.
So, Mom, I’m sorry I’m so messy. I’m sorry that I can be a little too feisty, and that I am incredibly stubborn. You always know when I’m hungry, and thanks for always having snacks ready when I am. I may be an adult know, but I for sure don’t know what I’m doing, and will forever need you around. Thank you for these things, and for everything else that I could not even manage to write into this post.
They always say “try to give your kids more than your parents gave to you.” Every time me and my brother hear this, we laugh because we know that will never be possible for us when we have children someday. I only hope one day when I become a mother I can be half the person that you are, and I am proud to say that I’ve become anything like my mom.
Thanks for being my person, Mom. Like you always told us when we were little, “I love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, your mom I will be.”
Speak with anyone within the Camp Kesem community- counselor, camper, benefactor, family member, or friend of the organization- about “what Camp Kesem means,” and you will almost certainly hear the word “magic” within five to ten minutes of conversation.
I’m being generous with my estimate. More likely it will tumble out of their mouths, as if involuntarily, within the first few breathless, beaming seconds of their response.
I have found this to be an uncommonly reliable phenomenon: those who have experienced Camp Kesem will talk about Camp Kesem, and those who talk about Camp Kesem will talk about it in terms of the word magic and all its derivative forms (i.e. magical, magically, #MagicMonday, etc.). This has something to do with the fact that Kesem, roughly translated from Hebrew, means magic.
I have been a Camp Kesem counselor for three years but have been deeply suspicious of the maudlin and melodramatic for over twenty-two. So I feel qualified to comment on this subject of magic as it relates to Kesem.
My hope is to respond to these questions honestly and thoroughly: among hundreds of philanthropic organizations and charitable causes, how can Camp Kesem be considered unique? And if it can be, does this uniqueness have anything at all to do with magic?
Of course, trying to answer these questions inevitably calls to mind scenes from camp. Most people who have participated in Camp Kesem would feel compelled to rely on something to the effect of, “you just have to be there” when challenged about the magic of camp. And while the effect of camp is probably more profoundly understood firsthand, I realize that not everyone can or will experience it.
So for the purposes of this piece, I’ll do my best to describe two personally impactful moments from camp and explain whether or not I find anything magical in the memory of them. Camp Kesem is a lot of fun. Watch our videos on YouTube if you need convincing. There are songs, sports, crafts, kayaks, rope courses, relay races, zip lines and zorbs. There are entire afternoons dedicated to covering people in shaving cream. The phrase “ice cream dance party” is used with surprising regularity.
I watched one of my fellow counselors start to eat a cracker just as one of our ten-year-old campers asked him a question about the day’s schedule. He seized the opportunity and spat out most of the cracker as he answered her. She started to laugh and told him not to speak with his mouth full.
He stuffed in another two crackers and insisted over the sound of his chewing and spewing that there was nothing in his mouth. She started laughing harder, and he immediately added another. More flying cracker bits, more laughter. A simple formula.
Half a dozen saltines later (this the epitome of dry humor), the joke had only become funnier to our camper. She was hooked on the bit and this little girl- her mother’s body riddled with tumors- was unable to stifle her joy.
The great majority of interactions at Camp Kesem are similar in tone to the one I just described: lively, lighthearted, and characterized by joy. Given the nature and purpose of the camp, however, there are also those moments that feel very different: deeper, weightier, and perhaps more difficult to understand. In these instances it isn’t always clear what to say or how to behave, other than to convey some sense of sympathy and support.
At last summer’s camp, I was woken up one night by one of my kids crying. This particular camper was eight years old at the time, perfectly happy and good-natured in all the time I had spent with him. His crying wasn’t loud or labored enough to make me think that he was in physical pain. It sounded soft and steady, as if it had been dammed up for some time and was now flowing out naturally.
I went over to him and asked him what was wrong. He said he didn’t know. I asked if something had upset him that night. He said that nothing had. I asked if something had scared him. He said that he didn’t know what he was scared of. I asked if there was anything I could do for him. He told me he wasn’t sure.
I stood next to his bed for a few more minutes while he continued his almost inaudible cry. Eventually he seemed to tire himself out, all of his emotional energy spent. When I thought he had fallen asleep, I started to walk back to my bed. He called my name very quietly.
Much of what people involved with Camp Kesem mean when they talk about magic is captured within these two stories and others like them. Now, of course, there’s nothing magical about laughing or crying per se. It’s certainly remarkable to see kids face their parent’s illness with cheerfulness, resilience, and grace. And it is jarring to feel so emotionally connected to someone you might have known for only a few days.
But those feelings themselves aren’t necessarily otherworldly or magical. For something to be considered supernatural, it must transcend the ordinary in such a way that it belongs to a definitively different state: what is becomes something wholly different than what was.
When we talk about cancer, we know we’re talking about a disease of abnormality. There are cells growing abnormally in a person’s body. By definition, it isn’t right, and it’s not the way things are supposed to be. And it is the task of doctors and scientists and lab technicians and tens of billions of dollars to return the body to normalcy.
But what can be done to oppose cancer if we’re not researchers in a lab and our donations are subject to limitations? I believe Camp Kesem has provided something close to the perfect answer to that question. We recognize that cancer affects more than just cells and tissue.
That means we laugh if we want to. That means we cry when we need to. That means we make memories and spend time with the people we love. It would seem, after all, that these are the things we should be doing.
And if Camp Kesem can really, authentically, absolutely change the abnormal qualities of a child’s life and return them to something resembling normalcy, then one must start to wonder what kind of work this organization is doing. What words can we use to describe such a change?
Ask any Camp Kesem camper what they would do with just one magic power and the answer (after a few obligatory comments about becoming a billionaire, invisible, or able to fly) is sure to be the wholesale eradication of cancer from the face of the earth. The disease would simply be no more.
It would not have been obvious to me, before attending camp, how their desire for some magical relief from their concerns might be realized. It was only in forming relationships with campers and other counselors that I started to understand what was really happening at Camp Kesem. This was the instrument by which wishes became reality.
If they couldn’t rid the world of cancer, then at least maybe they had a chance to rid themselves of its devastating incidental effects: feelings of fear, loneliness, and helplessness in childhood.
Witnessing and participating in this process feel just a little bit different than any other charitable cause I have been a part of. It feels something like magic. And so it feels like Kesem.
Some of the more pragmatic readers of this piece will be disposed to stop short of invoking the supernatural and will instead invest in the wonders of oncological research. While I commend those efforts, I can assure all of my fellow skeptics that this organization is as important in the fight against cancer as any other.
Our fight is taken up on the front of childhood, of innocence, of peace of mind, and of a normal way of life. As we continue to battle, we look to the care of the wounded.
I remember my first Picture day ever. I was 5 years old and my mom dressed me in this bright, flowery shirt that I absolutely hated. I threw a tantrum! I despised that shirt, but I wore it anyways. By the end of the day, I remember all of my teachers and friends telling me that they liked my shirt a lot. My picture looked amazing and it was all because my mom, the one who knows what is best for me, told me to wear it.
All of the students came in with their parents and stood in line for the first bell of the school year to ring. My mom, the minute the school bell rang, kissed me on the cheek before she left. I pulled my face away out of embarrassment. She did not say anything, and smiled at me. Because my mom, the one who loves me unconditionally, knew how I felt before I even understood why I had done it.
Her face lit up with excitement and joy that even I had not felt for myself. I remember her coming to every one of my concerts even if she had to cancel plans for them. Because my mom, the one who makes daily sacrifices to see her son grow, wanted to see me excel at something I loved.
I came home in such fear. My mom looked at the test and she was MAD. I was so scared that I ran into my room and locked the door. I began to pray and tear up, I was so scared. Then I heard a knock on my door. Shakily, I opened it to see my mom. She sat me down and explained to me why she got so mad. Because my mom, the one who wants nothing but the best for me, should expect the best from me as well.
Even now, I don’t understand why she does some things. But my mom has her reasons. Every time she freaks out whenever I drive to Every time she screams out of frustration when I don’t clean my room, I know she means well. I know she doesn’t want her 16 year old son to mess up in the future. Sometimes she can be the most annoying human on the planet, but I know that through all of the bad, she loves me. And I love you too Mom.
Happy Mother’s Day, you deserve it.
We are proud to partner with Wellspring Living and The Make It Zero campaign in the fight against child-sex trafficking. We would also like to thank MELT for spearheading this effort. From Atlanta to Africa, poverty is a reality for too many people. We would also like to thank Jimmy Wayne for his heartfelt story on how he used his gift to overcome homelessness. Please support his organization Project Meet Me Halfway, a great cause that helps to build homes for at-risk children.
In 1989, the Berlin wall fell; my wall, however was still up and wasn’t about to come down—or so I thought!
I was 16 years old and homeless, living on the streets in North Carolina. I was riding a bicycle that I had borrowed (I was going to return it although I didn’t know when) scouring the neighborhood looking for odd jobs. I needed money to buy food.
I noticed a garage bay door opened on a wood shop that was once a fueling station back in the 40s. An elderly man was standing at a band-saw cutting a dasher that goes inside of a butter-churn. Something told me to go up and ask that man if he had any work I could do. I did.
She flipped the “off” switch, pushed her goggles back on top of her white hair, wiped the saw dust off her arms, and walked toward me.
“Do you cut grass?” the elderly woman asked. “Yes, Ma’am!” I replied.
“Well, good. Come back this afternoon at 5 p.m. and cut our grass,” she said.
I arrived on time and began cutting the elderly woman’s grass. Halfway through the job, I noticed the white-haired lady had walked out the front door of her home carrying a Coca-Cola. She motioned for me to come over to the fence where she handed me the Coca-Cola and a doughnut.
We talked . . . well, she talked and I just listened. She talked about the weather and complimented the job I was doing. She then asked me to come back the following week and cut her grass again. I became her lawn boy for the remainder of that summer and each time I cut her grass, she brought me a Coca-Cola and a doughnut out to the fence under the apple tree.
Toward the end of the summer, I started getting nervous, wondering how I was going to earn money and where I was going to live. I showed up at the elderly woman’s home and just as always, she brought a Coca-Cola and doughnut out to the fence, but this time she did not compliment the job I was doing and or talk about the weather. She simply asked, “Jimmy, where do you live?”
Without giving away too much information, because I did not want this 75-year-old woman to know anything about me, I responded, “Ahh, up the road.”
She smiled and said, “Well, my husband and I have been talking and want to know if you would be interested in moving into our home?”
I knew it wasn’t going to last; it never lasted. I’d been allowed to stay with a few kind folks before, and always had to leave. But at least it would be a few days that I would not have to sleep outside, I could wash my clothes, eat, and take a shower. So I showed up at her home that evening, carrying a plastic bag filled with my clothes and other items such as poems, letters and drawings.
I rang her doorbell and Bea walked up to the glass storm door, opened it, and told me to come on in. I stepped into her home; it smelled amazing like pie. I walked across the living room, down to the spare bedroom, and put my bag down. I did not unpack.
I waited the next four days for her husband, Russell, who was also a World War II veteran, to make me leave. He hadn’t said a word to me the entire time I was there and I knew it was only a matter of time before the 79-year-old man was going to send me away.
I knew what he was going to say. Nevertheless, I sat down in his chair and he sat across the living room in a small chair beside the front door. The sun was shining through the window behind him, creating a silhouette of Russell.
He held up three fingers and said, “Jimmy, if you’re going to stay in my home, there’s two things you’ve got to do.”
I wanted to correct him, but that voice I’d heard many times before said to me that I needed to keep my mouth closed and not say a word. I listened as Russell explained, “The first thing you got to do is cut off all your hair just like mine.” He lowered the first finger. “We want you to go to church.” He then lowered the second finger. “And if you don’t do those two things, you’ve got to leave now.” He emphasized the last statement by lowering the third finger.
I couldn’t believe my ears. They were going to let me stay!
For some foolish reason, I thought Russell would let the haircut slide.
When we walked in, the barber said, “Hello, Mr. Costner. What can I do for you?” It was very obvious that Mr. Costner did not need a haircut.
Mr. Costner said, “This boy needs a haircut.”
The barber looked at me and grabbed his clippers as if he couldn’t wait to plunge them into my long hair. The barber said, “Get up here, boy.” He wrapped a cape around my neck and the next sound I heard was the buzzing of clippers zipping around my head. Twenty seconds later I was nearly bald.
After the haircut, Mr. Costner took me next-door and purchased some school clothes for me.
When we returned to their home, I dug through my plastic bag and found a phone number that belonged to my seventh grade guidance counselor, Ms. Cindy Ballard. I told her that I had found a home. Ms. Ballard said, “We need to get you back in school.”
With her help and so many other wonderful people’s help, I enrolled in high-school and from that day forward, I never missed one single day of high-school. I was even there on senior skip day!
They gave me an opportunity to go to high-school, attend a community college, and pursue my dream of writing and performing music. After having some success in the music business, I decided to use my experience growing up in the foster care system in conjunction with my success and raise awareness for the 30,000 foster children who age out of foster care every year in America. Most of these young people become homeless, imprisoned, pregnant, or dead.
On January 1, 2010 I began walking from Nashville Tennessee to Phoenix Arizona, simulating being homeless. I called the campaign Project Meet Me Halfway. Although I predicted it would take me only three months to walk the 1700 miles, it took me seven months.
It was approximately 9° the day I left Nashville and 117° the day I arrived in Phoenix on August 1, 2010. As a result of the walk, California, Tennessee, and North Carolina extended foster care to age 21.
My goal is to get every state in America to extend foster care to at least age 21. Each state will save money by extending foster care.
You can help me help these vulnerable and valuable children by getting involved in Project Meet Me Halfway. Log onto projectMMH.org and share this information with your friends. Thank you all for taking time to read this blog. If you would like to discover the entire story, please pick up a copy of my “New York Times” bestseller, Walk To Beautiful.
Just one month before my high school graduation and 18th birthday, in April 2005, I walked into Planned Parenthood because I wanted to start taking birth control pills. Per their protocol, they gave me a pregnancy test and I was terrified to learn that I was pregnant.
Furthermore, as class president, Homecoming Queen and Varsity Cheer Captain. I felt like I wanted to die right there in the clinic.
I had already been accepted into Florida State University and after sitting down and telling my parents, they asked if I would still pursue my college plans, I replied “Yes!” They both embraced me and my high school sweetheart, Anthony Wilcox, Sr. and said “life goes on.”
I was wowed by their response and although it wasn’t the best news, they were confident that I would further my education and set out to fulfill my dreams.
I did just that. I went to Florida State University in June 2005 and Anthony, deferred his football scholarship to stay in Tallahassee with me and witness the birth of our son, due in December.
As I completed the first 2 semesters, waddling across campus, on December 20, 2005, I gave birth to the most precious gift I have yet to receive, Anthony Wilcox, Jr. Fortunately, it was during the Christmas Holiday break and when he was 3 weeks old, I started my 3rd semester of classes.
At the time, I knew that the odds were against me: a young, black mother, but I was determined to graduate within 4 years and lead a life for my son that he would be proud of, and one that he can truly understand the true essence of “never giving up.”
When Anthony Jr. was 6 months, his dad had to report to his Junior College in California, so I was left to take care of our son, balance a full load of college courses and I worked on campus and at CVS as a pharmacy technician.
Though he helped financially, and spent time with him on his breaks, I was carrying quite a load, doing it all myself. With my sister, Applemania, attending Florida A&M University and my oldest sister, Alfreda, relocating to Tallahassee during my college years, I was so blessed to have them a part of my support system!
But they too, had a life of their own. I had to develop networking and trusting relationships with others (college friends) to help me.
There were so many moments where I felt overwhelmed; with relationship issues, because me and Anthony Sr. had broken up, balancing motherhood, classes and work, times were I faced financial hardship and so many reasons why I could have given up…but I did NOT!
I kept going.
I was so interested in continuing my involvement at FSU as I did in high school so I became involved with the Black Student Union, Student Government and pledged in the Zeta Omicron chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. I was also a member of the Garnet and Gold Guides where we guided families and official football / basketball recruits during their visits at FSU.
Yes! All of this with a baby! Soon enough, on campus, I was no longer Altrichia Cook, but I became the “girl with the cute baby” It was all love and support. I would be a resource to other girls on campus that became pregnant and they would seek counsel from me about resources, grants they may have been eligible for, and other necessities to help them be successful as they saw me as a successful college mom.
I furthered my education by pursuing my Master’s degree at Florida A&M University. I graduated from there in April 2011.
I relocated to Lakeland FL and worked as a probation officer. I have always loved fashion and upon relocating, I started thrift shopping frequently. Between thrift shopping and ASOS.com for me, and RalphaLauren.com for my son, I was definitely a border-line shop-a-holic.
As I would purchase these vintage finds, I would create and re-create looks of the vintage finds and worked with a tailor to make these creations come to life. It wasn’t until March 2013, when I was planning to vacation to Puerto Rico, that I aimlessly searched for a high-waist swimsuit to mask my abdominal imperfections. Frustrated and unsuccessful, I took matters into my own hands and created my own high-waist design and had the tailor to materialize my idea.
Upon relocating back to my hometown which was NEVER my plan, and working as “misses officer,” I knew that I would not work as a PO forever. I had spent some time brainstorming about creating a business to create revenue for myself. I knew I wanted to (and still aspire to) establish a non-profit center/residential program for teen moms who are in need of direction, but I figured that would be more in my later years when I would be financially concrete.
So, I spent time thinking about establishing ideas to start a trucking company.
My father had been in that business since I was little and he made a great deal of money…then, I thought about starting a childcare facility. For whatever reason, those ideas went onto some paper and stayed there. I was not motivate because neither was my passion.
They were simply ideas of how I could make money and become rich. So when I saw the inquiries about my highwaist piece! Instantly, I felt an unction and I heard a voice from Heaven whisper “that’s it! this is your business!” I will never forget, I was sitting in my office on a Tuesday afternoon preparing to head to court and I heard I created a pic-stitch that said “Allusions by A.Lekay Highwaist Swimwear Coming Soon.”
What was an idea for me to mask my abdominal imperfections from childbearing, afforded me the opportunity to launch my very own business, Allusions by A.Lekay Swimwear. Utilizing social media, though I had an unplanned business, I was motivated and decided to move forward by researching, sourcing fabrics, drafting a contract with me and my tailor to get the ball rolling.
That platform to share and inspire was truly my passion. I decided that I wanted my brand to differentiate in a way that we would only offer highwaist style swimwear and be a lifestyle brand to empower women to be confident and to live life fierce and fearlessly just as I had done!
Becoming an international brand within a short span; having clients in England, Spain, and Ireland to name a few, I continued to wow myself by seeing how social media catapulted my brand, by learning to invest in myself, serving others and being fearless in reaching out and connecting with others. In addition, the good ole two words “thank you” have also been the moving force of the elevation of my brand.
These qualities have taken me far. Being a GIRL BOSS and servant is who I am, and who I have been since I can remember. This past July, Nicki Minaj graced the cover of the July issue of Cosmopolitan Mag wearing an Allusions by A.Lekay design.
All from my fearlessness to connect with some amazing people at Cosmo. So here I am, this 2 year brand, landing a major collaboration with an international medium and the Queen of Rap! This within itself reinforces my life’s mantra “there are infinite possibilities to those who are determined.”
As a result of my ability to create opportunity, my drive and willingness to serve others, I have been humbled and grateful to receive numerous awards and media mentions.
A Girl Boss indeed, however, I am still a servant mentor and community leader. In February 2014, I launched the Sweetheart Seminar, an empowerment seminar hosted on Valentine’s Day to empower teen moms to promote self-love and confidence.
I have a platform through my swimwear company and I will continue to utilize it to empower women and spread the notion that as woman, we must collaborate and NOT compete! I disagree with the colloquial saying that “it’s lonely at the top” because I believe that we can create opportunities for those that are willing to work hard and take them with you!
If I could leave readers with a piece of advice, I would simply encourage you to NEVER GIVE UP! In life, we are often times faced with ginormous issues and things that mean are designed to be road blocks in our lives, but it is up to us, to turn those roadblocks into stepping stones! To connect with others that can empower and encourage us to reach out highest potential!
I am Bene because I am fearless, I am a servant, I am professional and I NEVER GIVE UP!