After ten years of being away, this year actually marking my ten year class reunion, I decided to come home. Many people look at going away and coming back to Richmond County as a failed attempt, but I see it as an opportunity to catch a second wind. When some of my close friends heard that I had come to this decision, they were nothing short of supportive. So much so, that a conversation with them about the topic felt like a coaching session for a contestant on the Biggest Loser.
I heard things like,” don’t let anyone make you feel bad for moving back home,” or “minor setback for a major come-up.” While I am most appreciative of their concern, I am most contented with my decision for it was one made out of choice, not desperation. Shame only comes from defeat, and I never lose, I either win or learn. Coming home almost feels like a victory lap after being going for so long, like Odysseus in The Odyssey. I left home right after the best class to ever grace Raider Stadium graduated in 2007. I ended up spending the next four years, growing, learning, and creating on the beautiful, most liberal and conservative (at the same time), and historic campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, home of the Tarheels, the 2017 NCAA champions (it’s still a good feeling). From there, I joined City Year, which is an Americorps program that mentors, coaches, and tutors students in underserved communities, which landed me in Columbus, Ohio for the next four years. The City Year program was only ten months, but the opportunity of becoming a KIPP teacher kept me there longer. I loved the work I had done and was doing in multiple communities throughout the city of Columbus. Columbus is the capital and a most progressive city in the heart of Ohio. I enjoyed calling it my home for the time I was there, but there was a longing for me to come home.
Here I was doing all this good in the community with strangers that became family, but I kept thinking about how I could help my own family, my own community. People often ask, “Why come home?” My response, “why not?” The birth of two nieces, two great nieces, and a great nephew over the course of those ten years is my why. Coming home to visit for the holidays and watching them grow-up was the highlight of my visit. I decided they would know they auntie, and not just from a picture. So I moved closer.
I found myself in Charlotte for the last two years. I thought it was a happy median, close to family, but still in the city. However, Charlotte does not offer all the perks of Columbus in my eyes. Columbus offers a high pay, and a low cost of living while Charlotte is just the opposite. For the same job, a teacher, I took almost a ten-thousand-dollar pay cut and the rent in comparison is almost double. To add insult to injury, the commute everywhere is nearly twenty to thirty minutes and the traffic during rush hour is sure to give you a headache and an anxiety attack. Even though I was living in a major city with everything I could possibly need or want to do, I was home just about every weekend. Two months ago, my heartstrings kept tugging and they wouldn’t let go and finally I folded. I called my mom and I said, “I think I’m going to come back home for some time,” and of course she was quick to reply, “Yes, I’m so happy! Come on home.” So here I am!
We often think that the typical trajectory is to leave Richmond County and never come back until you’re retired and ready to live out your remaining years back home so it doesn’t cost your family so much to transport you home and bury you. I’d like to think that’s the problem. So many talented people leave the community to go add value to someone else’s with your own being forgotten, for what is a tree without roots? I am a twenty-eight- year-old young, single lady and in the words of my Aunt Edie, “without a chick, nor child, not even a cat nor dog, nothing smiling or grinning in my face.” I have nothing but time and talent to pour into the place that has added so much value to my own. Honestly, I view coming home as a time to regroup the present and re-imagine the future. What better place to experience a rebirth of energy, focus and ideas, except in the place that gave birth to you originally. Since coming home, there has been new opportunities and a resurgent spirit in me, one that really wants to make Richmond County the home I once knew when I was growing up. The Richmond County I fell in love with and took pride in. Coming back home has been nothing short of euphoric.
It’s interesting because the same friend that was coaching me for my transition back to the County had also transitioned from the hype of Charlotte. While I didn’t feel the same disappointment she felt in not being supported by her family and friends for giving something a try and returning to a place in which she knows, she provided me with a most helpful perspective. She said, “When people try to make you feel bad for going back home, just tell them you’re Falling Forward.”