An Addiction to Self-Discovery

by Mia Dunlap 

Greetings everyone, my name is Mia Dunlap and I am addicted to self-discovery and to the quality welfare of under-represented youth.

I have grappled with this addiction for a number of years before acknowledging it.

In August 2006, when I made up my mind to attend Spelman College, I confirmed my addiction to self discovery.

I was taking a risk that I had not seen taken before—going to another state, with no tuition, expecting to not only be formerly educated but also to immerse myself in a community of Black women who are not afraid to challenge the status quo.

These women are unapologetic free thinkers, and unashamedly break the barriers that have hindered Black women for decades.

I went in search of self and have discovered more about who I am than I expected.

It has always been my dream to empower children who feel like the world has given up on them. I have to be honest with my readers – this addiction expands at liberty. I feel a deep calling to aid children in prisons, orphanages, foster homes, detention centers, impoverished communities and anywhere else where the circumstances are emotionally paralyzing and mentally tormenting.

At times, my addiction to this work is so overwhelming that I break down and cry.

I cry because I cannot help but think about the adversities that young people have to tread through at the expense of their youth.

This addiction, that I later came to know as a passion, sometimes wakes me from my sleep and inspires me to journal about stories that are not my own.

Most often, though, I have daydreams of rescuing young people from the agony of their circumstances. I daydream about what I can do to fight the injustices that smother the cries of the young people who are falling through the cracks and wailing to be rescued.

My daydreams help me realize my life’s calling is to help provide sensitive, supportive and safe environments where children can openly expose their wounds and begin to heal.

But suddenly, I am snapped back into reality and reminded that I am one of “them.”

I can imagine that my name is written somewhere in a book called “at-risk youth from Chicago housing projects.” Even that reality check will not keep me from adhering to my calling, however.

My addictions to self insight and to the service of children cause me to take risks that are sometimes scary and uncertain. I start to believe that I can accomplish things that seem unreasonable and impossible. The adrenalin rush I get from these dreams is still fueling my journey to Spelman College.

I faced naysayers who did not believe in my ability and loved ones who thought it absurd that I did not attend a less expensive institution.

Despite the naysayers, there were a few gathered in my “Amen Corner” rooting for me all the way, especially my dad, mother and grandmother. They wanted it for me just as much as I wanted it for my community and me.

Now, here I am, a rising senior, averaging above a 3.0 each semester since my sophomore year. I know that I had some folks praying for me through this journey because I certainly could not have done it on my own strength.

The risks I have taken to satisfy my addiction to helping “inner city” youth were well worth it as I have travelled to spaces and had experiences that I had never imagined.

In January 2009, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Washington, DC, with about 20 other Spelman Sister’s Chapel affiliates to witness the inauguration of the first African American president of the United States.

For the past two summers, I have been blessed to earn internships through the Daughters of the Covenant Program at Spelman’s Chapel. Through this program, I was placed at Black-owned faith-based non-profit organizations.

This past summer, I interned in Atlanta, Georgia, at Foreverfamily, an organization for children of imprisoned parents led by national president Sandra Barnhill.

The organization is creating a space for children to have an extended family as well as visits to their parents in prison once or twice a month.

As an intern, I led prison visits and sat at the table with lawyers, business women, accountants and others, helping to make important decisions for the organization.

During the summer of 2008, I interned in Washington, DC, with the Children’s Defense Fund, where Marian Wright Edelman is the founder and president.

I worked closely with other interns to form ideas and questions to pose to legislators and other government officials who make decisions that govern health care, education and poverty for children across this country.

In the summer of 2007, I interned in East Palo Alto, California, with Bayshore Christian Ministries as a teacher, where I taught predominately Latino and Black 3rd -5th graders whose reading comprehension and math skills increased by an average of 75 percent of a grade level.

The work I have been doing has been beneficial for the youths, but it has also been a tremendous growth experience for me. I have worked long hours developing lesson plans, planning a youth conference, and watching the glow on the faces of children reuniting with loved ones.

I am learning the true value of service through urgent and necessary work on behalf of youth.

I am aware that opportunities like mine may not present themselves every day to young people, especially in communities where I grew up in Chicago, places like Robert Taylor Homes, Altgeld Gardens and Washington Park Homes.

My goal is to be sure that youths from communities like mine are aware that there are positive escapes routes from the ‘hood and with the help of the village—elders, teachers, community activists and self-effort – it is possible.

It was the village that helped to guide me and assure me there were so much God had invested in me, especially my New Calvary church family, the Office of Special Programs and my Earth Angel. They zeroed in on me and unlocked my promise.

To them, I am forever grateful. I plan to help create that same kind of village for other young people.

As an English major, I have a heart for learning. Upon graduation, I plan to become a teacher in a very non-traditional form. I will teach in juvenile detention centers and climb the ladder to become a superintendent in order to reform the way youths, specifically Black girls and boys, are being educated and rehabilitated for re-entry.

Because education disparity is so prevalent in “inner city” communities, I plan to spend much of my time investing in the potential of students in those areas. It is not only my calling but it is also my obligation, as so many people have helped me.

Truthfully, I cannot say that I have avoided all pot holes and hazards of my environment. There were several occasions when my life didn’t feel so promising or my potential so great. However, through the mercies of my higher power, I have been given many second chances to find my life’s mission.

I do not intend to abort my mission or control my addiction, for this substance ignites a flame of enthusiasm, ambition and passion in me that I cannot always coherently articulate but I know lives deep within me. I have made a promise to myself that no matter where my life road takes me, I will never forget to reach back to children from environments like mine.

Greetings everyone, my name is Mia Dunlap and I am addicted to self-discovery and giving youth second chances to be children.

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