J Aces Lira | Chivago, IL

I recall my time in high school. During this time, I’m making intercity commutes and my mom was struggling with eviction notices and constant housing moves. For a period of time, we were homeless and struggled to make a smooth transition between the last place and the next option. I vividly remember nights sneaking into motel rooms to budget as much as possible. Moving in the dark and keeping it secret, I associated so much shame with these experiences.

In school I was quiet about what we were going through, but I remember watching the story of Liz Murray and how she made it work and got herself to Harvard. It was a story like hers that really influenced me to keep going and while I didn’t always have a home, the school became a makeshift haven for me. The earliest I could be on the school grounds, I would be there; the latest I can stay on school grounds, I was still there. 

I sometimes dwell on what could have been if I spoke up and told someone. It wasn’t until senior year that it came time to write our personal statements for college I shared portions of my family’s experience. I figured it was appropriate to write about my “endeavors” and share about “overcoming barriers”. When an influential teacher of mine read it I still remember her shock. 

She asked why I didn’t reach out for help and she reassured me that there are people who are able to help. In that exchange, she emphasized that at any point in time I can call her for support.

That left an impression on me. The value of speaking up and reaching out for help. How toxic it is to experience life’s challenges alone with shame but from that, I learned that our circumstances are better when we ask for a helping hand.

j aces lira (he/him)
chicago, il

photographed by: gran varones

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