Hours before I met my savior, I was at my church, appreciating the last few moments of something holy. But I was also wondering where I would stay that night. I was going into my junior year in Baltimore, and I was homeless.
Then I happened to bump into a friend who was going home for dinner with his mother. When I heard they were having crabcakes, I jokingly asked if I could join. The mother, whom I called “Miss Queen,” didn’t hesitate to welcome me.
Soon, I found myself at her table and sharing my story of struggle. I was shocked when she made me an offer: You don’t have to worry anymore. This is your family, and I welcome you to this home to live with me and my sons until you graduate high school and go to college.
It was unbelievable to hear her say that. I hadn’t even thought about college as a possibility. I gave her a hug and left, with a lot to think about.
I grew up in Baltimore City in a struggling black family, with six sisters and neither parent holding a consistent job. I worked part-time, six days a week, but we often found ourselves homeless. Hunger, restlessness and depression made every day tough.
When I was 14, my sisters and I were put into foster care due to neglect. We were all forced to split up into different homes. I began to struggle in school, battling insomnia and mental health issues. Later, my siblings and I were placed back with our parents, but it was a bad situation. I wound up having to leave and rely on friends and the kindness of many strangers to survive.
During those first years of high school, I had a breakdown and landed in Sheppard Pratt hospital twice. It was tough, but ultimately fruitful, because I learned new ways to cope with stress, like meditation.
After Miss Queen made her offer, I thought about all of the negative outcomes that would happen if I stayed with my mother and decided to take the opportunity for a stable home. “Don’t come back,” my mother told me.
When I arrived at Miss Queen’s house, I was welcomed with a warm hug and a room to stay in with her 10-year-old son, whom she had adopted. He was on the top bunk, and I was on the bottom, and we used to talk at night. Miss Queen, who is retired, treated me like family. She took care of everything. “You should be only focused on school, nothing else,” she always reminded me. And she never threatened to put me out after disagreements. Miss Queen became like a second mother to me. I nicknamed her “Ma Ma.”
Living in her home, with no worries about food or electricity or where I would sleep, I began to grow and succeed in school. I got involved in local radio and television programs. I wanted to learn more and start my own video and photography business, and it was Miss. Queen who bought me my first camera. That one camera had a huge impact. I have even started my own production company.
With Miss Queen’s help, I was finally able to transfer my energy from surviving my challenges, to thriving.In finding my light, I want to help others find theirs. I plan to create films to inspire and uplift the hopeless in every community, because my experience has shown me that I am not the only one. Family shortcomings and unfortunate circumstances controlled my past. But they do not shape my future.
I got accepted into the Maryland Institute College of Art with a full ride, including on-campus housing, through various scholarships I won based on my achievements. The campus is only a few blocks from Miss Queen’s home, but I felt I should live with the students. So I had to sit down last summer and tell her I would be moving out.
That was one of the hardest moments for me, because she wanted me to stay. I thanked Miss Queen for everything and told her how much she meant to me, how grateful I was for everything she had done. I told her I will always be there for her no matter what. But it was time for me to live on my own. I wanted to become an independent man.
She understood, then she looked at me with an order: “You better be here for dinner every Sunday!”
I smiled, and I hugged her tight.
Xavier Plater (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a 2018 graduate of Baltimore’s Frederick Douglass High School and in his freshman year at MICA. His company is X Media Productions.