Kedan's Essay: Warrior

I've always pictured my life as a huge battle field: fallen men in armor, grass covered in blood stains, a few graves, and myself, fighting a war that wasn't mine. Most times the war I fought felt like an uphill battle. Unlike most kids in Atlanta, my childhood wasn't filled with any visits to the zoo, World of Coke, Six Flags, or the aquarium. There were never warm sunny days, just cold wet nights that were packed with constant arguing, yelling and crying. I distinctly remember coming inside the apartment after playing outside and seeing coffee stains on the wall and shattered glass on the floor. I didn't realize that all my parent's fighting would add up to the biggest battle I would have to face: divorce. 

When my mom, three sisters and I left my dad, I didn't realize how much and how quickly my life was changing. I didn't notice how little my mom earned until she said no to everything my sisters and I asked to get. My mom worked at a restaurant as a server during the day, so I had no choice other than to convert from childhood to adulthood at the age of 10. I was given a load of responsibility the same day my mom gave me a key to the apartment. Once my kindergarten sister and I got home, I had to make us food, clean around the apartment, and finish any homework. I had an older sister who was in middle school, but she could never really help me clean around the house because she had sensitive hands; if she touched certain cleaning products, they would get blisters. My aunt, who was also divorced, would travel back and forth from our home country. When in the U.S, she came and lived with us. It was comforting knowing that there was an adult in the house after school, but because she was blind, there was only so much she could do to help us. We moved to another apartment not too long after, but the living environment was terrible. There were bugs of all sizes and geckos coming in through the cracks from the doors and windows. There were only lights in the bathroom and kitchen. And gangsters would claim our apartment as their territory by spray painting 'Sur 13' or 'Nortenos.’ Once I got to high school I made an effort to fit in, and for the most part I did, but there were times where I was judged for my appearance, my hair, my face, my body, my teeth, and the way I talked. There were times when I felt as if no one understood what I was experiencing, and I craved having someone that could empathize and help me. 

The first event I did with Athena's was the dress giveaway, during my junior year. All I expected was to get a free used dress in exchange for three hours of my Saturday. I didn't realize that what I would get from Athena's Warehouse would be so much more than just a dress. In the orientation when everyone talked about what they were going through, I realized that even though the girls didn't have a similar background as me, they were all making sacrifices as well. All seven sessions, along with teaming up with MINT Gallery to clean the Atlanta BeltLine, contained information that was relevant to problems in my life. In "Mind, Body, Matter" and "Food For Thought,” I learned that I didn't have to be ashamed of my body, but if I wanted to live a healthier lifestyle, I should get lots of exercise and eat healthy food as much as I could. The two made me determined and gave me skills to improve my body image. When we cleaned the Atlanta Beltline, I learned what it means to be humble when giving back to the community. "Safety and Self-Defense" taught me how to be alert, especially when walking or running on my own, and how to react when coming in contact with a harmful situation. "Teen Dating Violence" helped me see what an abusive relationship looks like and how to be strong enough to get help if I find myself in one. It was only recently that I found out that both my mom and aunt were in abusive relationships, and I believe that this workshop would have benefited them greatly if they were exposed to it as teenagers. "Making Proud Choices" gave me wisdom about STDs and unwanted pregnancies but mainly enforced my mom's lectures about abstinence. I became hopeful for my future after "Career Day" because I got plenty of feedback from my mock interviewers on how to do better in future interviews. In "Future Planning" when we made vision boards, I was taught to be fearless, how to set achievable goals and to strive to achieve them even with obstacles. 

Kedan (third from left) and other participants cleaning up the BeltLine in collaboration with MINT Gallery

Kedan (third from left) and other participants cleaning up the BeltLine in collaboration with MINT Gallery

Athena's has shown me that to be a woman in this century is extraordinary because we don't have to fit into the little box that defines who we are and what we are capable of achieving. In many cultures women are sexualized and objectified, but it's time that people look past the typical gender roles and allow women to compete with men, in school and workforce. Women should be given equal rights and opportunities, as well as have control of our own bodies and lives. Athena's Warehouse empowers young girls and shows us to accept ourselves, to be comfortable in our own skin. It has taught us to fight for our rights and what we believe in, to strive for victory, nothing less, and to never let others defeat us with their words. I have become more confident to confront any obstacles that life throws at me. I want to take everything I've learned and not only pass it on to both of my younger sisters but also come back to Cross Keys and help inspire other girls, entitling them to a better future. Every high school should have an Athena's Warehouse because it educates young women about essential meanings: Sacrifice. Determination. Skill. Humbleness. Alertness. Strength. Wisdom. Hopefulness. Fearlessness. Fighter. What do these words have in common? They are all characteristics of a warrior. Athena's Warehouse taught me to be a warrior. 

Athena’s Warehouse taught me to be a warrior.