I tell my story to encourage youth that where you are now is not where you will always be and to ensure my peers that it’s never to late and to never give up on yourself. I share my story to remind others that no matter where you are in life you matter. You have purpose and significance. You are love!
Kathleen is the youngest of 13 children and her mother died when she was just 3 months old. Her oldest sister was barely 13 and was thrust into the role of caregiver for the younger children while working in the cotton fields of rural Mississippi and attending school whenever she could.
Her father later sent her, an older sister, and brother to live with his sister. Kathleen was molested by her aunt’s husband as a regular way of life from kindergarten to the age of 13. Deep in her spirit she knew it wasn’t right, but “I didn’t trust my intuition. I believed my uncle when he kept telling me it was okay. He would have me ride with him to take my aunt to work and after dropping her off he would molest me and take me to the store for candy. That was my life. To me it was normal.”
Ultimately the truth of the molestation was revealed. The court process decreed that either the children or the child molester leave the home. The aunt kept her man, (the perpetrator who loved having sex with children) and she abandoned the molested child sending 13 year old Kathleen, and her siblings to live with her father’s brother and his wife. Shortly afterwards Kathleen’s 18 year old sister got married and she took in 13 year old Kathleen and her 15 year old brother. This became too much for the newly married couple, and Kathleen went to live with yet another sister in Chicago.
Kathleen recalls, “I was a sheep being led to the slaughter. I was as green and gullible as all out doors. From Mississippi to the projects of Chicago, I was a target. Shortly after arriving in Chicago, I was sent to spend the summer with an adult cousin and was molested again. This is all I ever knew. Being molested was the only thing that was constant in my young life. Everything else changed but men having sex with me as a child was always there. Every decision I ever made was shaped by these experiences. When I was taken out of the home, there were no counselors, no one said this was wrong. I just moved on to the next house.
Just prior to her 14th birthday, Kathleen was sent to Indianapolis to live with the sister who took care of her as a toddler. She attended Wood High School. It was the worst experience of her life. She was the new kid, the boys wanted her and told stories about her that were not true. The girls hated her, they jumped her and beat on her because of the lies the boys told. No one ever believed Kathleen. She skipped school rather than endure this ridicule. She started smoking pot and shoplifting.
Before age 15 she had been in juvenile detention 3 times for skipping school and stealing. The second time she got released from juvenile she was placed in a group home for girls. “I do not remember the name of the home, but I never forgot the address, 904 Udell Street. There was a church across the street. The home has been torn down, but First Baptist Church is still there. I remember Reverend Bradley and his wife. They were kind to me. Going to church was my escape.”
The girls in the home attended Crispus Attucks High School. Kathleen was so far behind academically she didn’t even try. It was no different there than at Wood. Whenever things went wrong in the group home, she was usually accused of it. She remember one Sunday morning, “one of the girls was missing a pair of hose. She was ranting and raving and everyone was afraid, because she was a spoiled brat and a bully.” Kathleen went to church that morning and when she returned she was accused of stealing the pantyhose.
She was tired of being lied about. She was not surprised by the other girls as they were afraid of being bullied. Kathleen was painfully disappointed when the houseparent, someone that she respected dearly, did not believe her. “The hurt in my houseparent’s eyes was unbearable and I ran away.” This is how it starts. Kathleen’s life made her a sitting duck for being exploited.
After months of homelessness she grew weary of this life and turned herself in to juvenile detention. Upon her third discharge from juvenile detention, she was placed in Pleasant Run Children’s Home where she stayed from age 15-18. This saved Kathleen’s life.
Pleasant Run was her salvation. For the first time she had stability and for three years she was not molested. Her house-mother helped her with a book report and her teacher spoke powerful prophetic words to Kathleen in praise. “Kathleen, this is an excellent report. I will not be surprised when you grow up to be a famous author.”
Kathleen remembers two positive outpourings from her youth. In Mississippi, she spent her days at her cousins’ house reading books. Their mother gave them books of every kind to read. She was praised once in high school by her English teacher for writing an outstanding book report. She struggled in high school, yet she is a published author of two books and her command of the written word is excellent. She was mentored and truly felt cared about by the staff at Pleasant Run Children’s Home. Kathleen dedicated her first book to her English teach and her housemother even though she had no idea where they were or even if they were still living, but their impact was felt for a lifetime. Never underestimate the power of sowing into the life of a young person. One small act of interest and inspiration can make a significant positive difference. Kathleen is a living example.
For three years Kathleen was sheltered and protected from sexual predators. She had structure and with hard work and encouragement graduated from Manual High School. Despite the success of the prior three years, she was approaching emancipation. She was not prepared for independence. She lacked emotional maturity, social skills, financial education, and more importantly self-esteem, confidence, and a realistic outlook on life. “I enrolled in I.U.P.U.I. believing that I could live off student loans and work study. That lasted for about two semesters, and I found myself homeless again.”
Kathleen contacted a former staff at Pleasant Run Children’s Home asking for his help to get back to Chicago. He was driving to Gary to visit his son and he agreed to take her to Chicago. “I arrived in Chicago in March. By June I was married at age 19. My husband was a repairman by day and a monster at night.” Kathleen was forced by her husband into sex trafficking.
Kathleen created Sophia’s Hope as a result of her life experience. Her passion is to awaken potential, cultivate gifts, and empower girls growing up like her, who are in dire need of a positive role model. “I do not want any child to ever experience the life I did as a result of things out of their control. Children who are emancipated from the state need additional care, mentoring, training and preparation for independent living. We need to start as early as possible to reach out to them, to build them up, to instill confidence, and self-value. We need to provide every opportunity to strengthen and encourage them in their area of giftedness. Sophia’s Hope is a non-profit organization purposed to help inner city girls, and girls growing up in the system prepare for independent living.
Kathleen returned to school and earned a bachelor’s in organizational leadership. She is a living, breathing example of the life-changing results that come from God’s power and love. As a Certified John Maxwell Speaker and Life coach, Kathleen has committed her life to empowering other women to maximize their potential and live in abundance. .