Vanessa Berryman (2nd Quarter, 2007)

2nd Quarter, 2007
Minority  Scholarship Winner
Vanessa Berryman

I am a full-time straight A student, part-time waitress, freelance writer, aspiring model and mother to my wonderful little boy Brandon here in my hometown of Tempe, Arizona. I began the pursuit of my education a little later than I had hoped to (at age 22), but am satisfied with all that I have learned in the past two years. I highly doubt that I would have truly appreciated my college education had I entered fresh out of high school.

Currently, I am finishing my Associate degree program through the Maricopa Community College Network, and plan to transfer to Arizona State University for the 2008-2009 school year. There, I will continue my studies to earn a BA in Communications with minors in both Professional Writing and Media Analysis.

Upon my graduation, I aspire to become a Marketing Communications Specialist, a career that will merge my interests and strengths in writing, communication, mass media and advertising.

A Portion of Vanessa’s Winning Essay:

Vanessa Berryman
Vanessa Berryman

I’d like to think that through my achievements, I can help other poor Black females who could use a role model, a mentor and a benefactor. I have been poor all my life, in need of financial assistance and one day I would like to be the one helping someone else out. I have always dreamt about how great it would be if I could set up a scholarship for single mothers, women who want to do better for their children and for themselves, women like my mother and like myself. I want to give back to women who are where I once was: bound by and brought down by circumstances. I know that money, even a little bit, can make life easier and I would gladly give it. I want to help end the cycle of poor uneducated Black women having children young and more or less ensuring that their children experience the same fate.

I’d like to be able to show them, and the world, that it doesn’t matter where you come from, how much money you have in your pocket or what color your skin is. What truly matters is your mind and your heart. I’d like to be able to say:”Look! I grew up in the projects, too! I’ve been to the welfare office to face the humiliating interview process.

I know how lonely it is to have no one believe in you. I’ve been there. I know how hard it is out there. I know that the second you earn a little bit of money, you lose your food stamp benefits and your rent amount goes up. I know how hard it is to get ahead. But just realize that this current state of being is not forever. You are better than this. You are capable or so much more! Educate yourself! And let me help me you. That saying “knowledge is power’ is not a cliche; it’s the truth. Once you harness knowledge of the world that lies outside your neighborhood, you have power. You have control over your life.”

I believe this with all my heart. So many minority women don’t understand how credit works or what it will take to own a home. They don’t understand investments or insurance. And more importantly, they don’t understand how valuable the ability to budget really is. They live paycheck to paycheck, never setting a penny aside, preferring to instead spend any extra money on extraneous purchases. And this behavior only perpetuates the cycle. I want to help women understand that the only way to get off of welfare and out from underneath the poverty line is to spend wisely, save diligently and get an education.

And I want to do all that I can to see my fellow single mothers and minority women graduating from college, having real careers, owning businesses and owning homes. I want to see my fellow women live up to their potential. I want to see my generation end that despicable “Welfare Queen’ stereotype. And there’s no reason why we can’t do it. I have always believed that Black and other minority women are capable of more than we are often given credit for and I’d like to personally prove it and inspire other women to do the same.

I have been on government assistance since the day I was born. My mother, then single 20 year old woman, did the best that she could, considering that her own mother had just passed away and my father did not provide much assistance, if any. She was dependent on government assistance for food and shelter. We were the family in line for food boxes. I got almost all my back to school clothes from Salvation Army’s fundraisers.

Through the years, she tried to become financially independent, taking what jobs she could, usually menial office/clerical jobs through temporary agencies but to no avail. She even went to vocational school and community college but her scanty education never landed her the secure, well-paying job she was seeking. I saw how much to struggled to take care of my brother and me so to ease to crunch, I started taking little side jobs when I was 14.

Due to problems at home with my stepfather, I ran away, preferring to sleep in a city park or underneath an overpass than stay at home and endure the abuse. A few months after I left, my mother was finally able to separate herself from my stepfather and I finally had a safe loving place to go home to. In 2001 at age 17, I went to a vocational massage school, which in retrospect was very much life my mother’s academic pursuits. I soon found that the school and the career were not as great as I was initially lead to believe.

When the tragedy of September 11th happened, the world was in shock. I was scared to leave my house, not because I feared jet planes overhead, I feared that the world had changed for the worse. I had just received my massage license to practice in Phoenix but because America was afraid to travel on airplanes, the travel industry -and thus the massage industry -was at a standstill. Every hotel and resort I attempted to apply to promptly turned me away, usually using the phrase “Hiring Freeze’.

So there I was, 18, unemployable, $6,000 in debt and devastated.Over the next few years, I found employment in the service industry, mainly in retail. I considered going back to school many times but after my experience at the massage school, I was so afraid that it would just mean yet another disappointment and more debt.

At age 20, I found out that I was pregnant by the man I was in relationship with, much like my mother yet again. It was quite an emotional rollercoaster as I tried to decide whether I was ready to become a parent. But I figured that this child would not have been given to me if I wasn’t ready. I gave birth to a perfect, healthy and beautiful little boy, Brandon, June 14th 2004.I would like to say that it was his birth that transformed me, but that’s not how it happened.

My first year with Brandon was the most difficult year of life. It wasn’t so much the care of an infant; it was dealing with the extreme demands of my partner. As I look back now, I suppose that he concluded that now that I was the mother of his child, I was also his property. He insisted that I cut all ties to my previous life-which included having friends, working and being independent- so that I could stay at home with Brandon. While I was okay with this at first, I later realized that this was just a way for him to control me, making me completely dependent on him, financially and socially. I did not like my new “dependant’ status. I felt helpless and unable to change my life. I felt bound by circumstance. I began to hate myself. I became very depressed, so much so that my mother encouraged me to get therapy. With some resistance, I signed myself up.

Those first visits were awkward. I didn’t feel like I was making any progress in fixing what was broken with me and with my life. One day after therapy, I came home and somehow ended up watching a VH1 special about Black culture in the 1980’s. They were highlighting pivotal shows that were on at the time, one of them being “A Different World’, a sitcom about a group of young Black students at a fictional Black college. The commentators mention that the show’s popularity increased college enrollment at Black colleges during the 80’s and early 90’s.

I then began to remember my own college aspirations that I had as a child. I grew up in the suburb of Tempe, Arizona, home of Arizona State University and have always been aware of “the college life’.

One memory in particular came flooding back to me: When I was in my last year of Junior high, students from ASU came to my school, telling us how great college was. They gave us brochures and pamphlets, telling us that as future freshmen, it would be wise to start thinking about college now so that we can take some undergraduate classes at high school. I left school that day, nearly delirious as I thought about all the possible classes I could one day take and all the things I could do. I remembered coming home and telling my mother how great college is going to be and how well I’m going to do there. I was so caught up in my daydream that it took me a moment to realize that she was not joining in with my glee. She has a very solemn look on her face, almost one of pain. She quietly said “Vanessa, I can’t send you to college. We don’t have the money for that.” I was stunned and then just very sad. I threw away all those pamphlets that night but the thought had somehow stuck with me for nine years.

My eyes welled with tears as I remembered that heartbreaking day. The following week, I told all of this to my therapist and she told me that there’s no reason I couldn’t go to school. She told me I was smart and should use my mind to build a better life for myself and my son. She told me that me that considering my extremely low income level, I would be eligible for nearly every form of financial aid. For once, money wouldn’t be an issue. And that was all I needed to hear.

That night, I took a detour on my way to the grocery store to stop at Mesa Community College to pick up a class catalog. I flipped through it, almost giddily; I suddenly remembered how I used to go through my mother’s class catalog when I was 5, highlighting all the classes I planned to take when I grew up. That same night, I told my boyfriend that I’m going school and that Brandon’s going to start going to daycare. He was irate and told me I was a bad mother for “wanting to drop our kid off with strangers all day’. But I knew that he was just saying that to make me feel bad. I went to daycare when I was as young child and continue to remember it fondly. I knew that he was just trying to manipulate me but this time, I wasn’t “okay with it’. We had already been having relationship problems and this development was the last nail. He couldn’t control me anymore. We broke up in January 2006 and I started school two weeks later.

Now I have 39 credits under my belt and received A’s in every class. I’m on the honor roll and received a letter of recognition from the dean to congratulate me on 4.0 GPA. I truly enjoy going to school, probably a lot more than some of the students who went there directly out of high school.

I had to live my worst nightmare- being out of control of my life and dependent on someone else- to realize what truly matters me. I don’t go out and party like many of my classmates; my focus is sternly on being a good mother to my son and learning all I can from my classes. I have changed my major a few times since I first started but after my “Introduction to Business’ class, believe I have finally figured out which area of study best articulates with my complex needs.

I chose to pursue marketing as my major field of study because a career in marketing offers what would be the best of both worlds for me. I find marketing an extremely interesting and exciting industry. I have always noticed marketing and advertising messages, even before I was in school. I found joy in analyzing and comparing advertisements, trying to figure out exactly who they were trying to reach. There are always new trends, new ideas and new markets to study, analyze and connect with. I believe that I would be very satisfied working in the marketing/advertising field because it’s an industry that never gets stale or boring.

I believe I would constantly be challenged in this field and able to have some creativity as well. Marketing incorporates so many elements such as psychology, economics, art and culture, giving me room to explore different techniques and approaches to my work. Be it performing the analytic research projects, demographic studies or creating a new advertising campaign, it would always be thought-provoking, new and exciting. It’s very dynamic industry.

And as a single parent, I want to know that my educational and career choices will better enable me the job security and financial security I need to provide for my child. Money does not make someone a good parent but I believe that a good parent is one that is able to give everything a child needs: Food, shelter, clothing and an education. Having a good job will enable me to do that, without government assistance such as Section 8 housing and food stamps.

My son’s education is essential to me. Enlightening the next generation is the only way to truly end the cycle of uneducated minorities. And by having a good job, I will know that I will never have to tell my son that I don’t have the money to send him to college. I also want to own a home so I can finally have a backyard (I’ve lived in apartments all my life), and get my son a puppy.I considered many fields of study before deciding on this one.

One reason why marketing stuck out in my mind is the fact that marketers/advertisers graduates have been- and they continue to be- in high demand. It’s not one of the flash-in- the-pan “hot careers’ nor is it a career that people often struggle to find employment in. Many current studies have suggested that graduates with a BA in marketing and advertising are some of the top earners of recent graduates.After I graduate from Mesa Community College, I plan to transfer my credits to ASU for a BA in marketing while also getting a minor in English. This is because I believe that all successful business people, especially those in a field that is so dependent on transcripts, research reports and proposals and other written materials need a strong command of reading, writing and evaluation skills.

So in short, a career in marketing would offer me the creative challenge benefit that more artistic careers have them but at the same time I would be able to enjoy the benefits of having the stability, structure and financial incentives of working in a business environment.

Copyright 2007, All rights reserved.

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