Austin Valentine (1st Quarter, 2009)

1st Quarter, 2009
Recession Relief Scholarship Winner
Austin Valentine

I was born and raised in Baltimore, MD. I grew up in a middle class single parent household with my mother and older brother.  We had to overcome a number of struggles along the way, but I was able to graduate high school and attend Morgan State University.  I went on to receive my Associates Degree from Anne Arundel Community College and now I am studying to receive my Bachelor’s degree in Business Management.

A Portion of Austin’s Winning Essay:

Austin Valentine

I must say the current recession is devastating! As a child in grade school, I recall learning about the Great Depression. But it was a historical time I never envisioned being a part of. I never imagined witnessing such an economic crisis in this country. I am extremely saddened and alarmed by our country’s present state which has caused significant changes in my own life. However, before expressing how the current recession has affected my life, I want to discuss my upbringing and my life prior to this economic crisis.

As a child, I saw firsthand the impact of economic hardships. My mother struggled to raise two boys on her own. She was forced to work two jobs and accept public assistance just to make sure we had food in our stomachs, cloths on our back, and a roof over our heads. We lived in a poor neighborhood where drugs and crime were a part of our everyday lives. She had take on the role of a mother and a father providing support and shielding us from the outside world, all while sacrificing her own personal life in the process. Because of my childhood my goal was to never allow my children to experience the struggles my brother and I experienced. I vowed to work hard, focus on my education, and achieve a level of success my family never had.

My children would live a far more comfortable life. They would be taught to work hard, but never have to go hungry or do without. The American Dream to me was providing for my family in a way that I was not provided for. My mother did her best. She provided my brother and me with the tools we believed would make us successful. However, our ability to build a life for our family has started to fade as our economy has deteriorated and our opportunities for advancement have declined.

The truth is many want to blame one person or entity for this economic crisis and that blame is often aimed at our former president. Did President Bush do all that was needed to protect us from this crisis? Of course not, but no one wants to look in the mirror and attribute blame to themselves. Whether you are blaming yourself or the government now is not the time to assess blame. It is the time to remedy the problem. It is time to figure out how we are going to feed our hungry, shelter our homeless, provide jobs for our unemployed, and attempt to leave a prosperous America for our young.

This recession has impacted my life in ways that have truly exposed me to the harsh reality of the times we are living in. The possible layoff from my job has forced me to fill out numerous job applications and prepare myself for the worst case scenario of losing my job. Unfortunately many companies are just not hiring right now and the overall job market has little to choose from in terms of maintaining my current salary.

I’ve had to decrease my contribution to my 401k, cutback of my recreational activities, pay only the minimums on my car note and mortgage payment, all while watching the value of my home steadily decline. Re-financing my mortgage has also become a priority because of my lack of job stability, and the possibility that I may have to take a lower paying job should I be laid off. My overall confidence in our economy has taken a drastic hit due to this recession, and while hope remains, my skepticism about how long it will take for us to recover from this crisis continues to grow.

However, I never viewed this country as being a nation of quitters. We’ve overcome so much as a nation, from civil wars to the horrors of slavery, and our resiliency has always been one of our greatest strengths. Simply put, America will recover.

In the past, I was poor. I was considered a lower class citizen, but I refuse to let the past define my future. I look at the current state of our economy as an opportunity to cut back on my wasteful spending, make better long term financial decisions, and even look into investments, which I would never have taken advantage of before. This recession has impacted my job security, decreased the value of my home, forced me to save more than normal, and concentrate on my education so I have something to fall back on.

My biggest worry comes from being an expecting parent and having twins due in May. This economy has forced me to make personal sacrifices such as taking fewer classes to decrease my student loans and lower my financial burden just in case I am forced to take time off from school because I cannot afford to hire additional care for my children. My future plans are centered on my children. I hope that they will never experience the economic crisis we are currently living through.

This recession has changed the way I view America. The Teflon I envisioned around America is gone. But it has not altered my desire to work hard and take advantage of the opportunities still available. My future plans are now focused on saving and building wealth for myself and my family. This recession has actually revived my entrepreneurial spirit as I now feel my job can never truly be safe unless I am my own boss. And even still I must choose my business very wisely.

The pursuit of my education now becomes far more important as I obtain the necessary tools to help me become self sufficient. While my immediate future plans have been changed by the current economic downslide the one positive I can salvage from this crisis is that I have become more diligent and committed to preparing myself for the possible challenges I may face in the near and long-term future.

In essence, the recession has forced me to do many of the things that we as Americans have failed to do over the last several years. We have failed to listen to our elders. How many times have we heard our grandparents say “don’t spend what you don’t have” and “always plan for a rainy day.” Well today is pretty rainy, and spending what we do not have has lead this great nation to such a devastating place. I unfortunately envision my children and their children still digging themselves out of the mess that my generation and the generation prior to mine caused. I have learned a valuable lesson and I hope America has too.

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