We lived on the wrong side of town for people with our skin, and our neighbors would never let us forget that.
I had to go. I was fed up. I was only 12 years old, but I knew I deserved better than this. With so much life left to live I had to ask myself, “Renael, is this going to be your life story?” I had to tell myself no. When I made my mind up, I had to make a plan quick because I had to go.
I grew up in Houma, Louisiana, in the 1970’s. Life was very slow-paced and remote. I lived with my mother, sister, and stepfather, but my stepfather wasn’t there much. There was a lot of time for me and my older sister to run about and explore the country we had at our fingertips. For some reason, in Houma, me and my sister could never stay out of the sugar cane fields. Trouble never bothered me much. The only thing that ever bothered me was all the bugs.
Me, my sister, and my mother left Houma, Louisiana, because my mother was in a very abusive relationship with my stepfather. It wasn’t very hard for me to leave Houma, because I was so young that there was no other option but to leave. We left on a Greyhound bus and that was okay. We didn’t have much food but the trip wasn’t terrible. For some reason, I remember sleeping a lot. I slept so I didn’t have to see all the things I would be missing out on, because the country was fun, and I was leaving something that brought me joy.
Once we got off the Greyhound bus, we stayed with my aunt and uncle for a year. The house was very crowded and the grown-ups in my life didn’t always get along, but there was love there, and that’s what mattered most to me as a younger child. My mother was weird; the man she spent all this time and money running away from eventually slipped right back into our lives. So we moved to Modesto, California, with my stepdad.
Modesto may have been one of the roughest situations I have been in, believe me or not. We lived on the wrong side of town for people with our skin, and our neighbors would never let us forget that. Eggs and toilet paper constantly littered the outside of our house while on the inside, my mother and my stepfather kept becoming more and more distant. They kept themselves cooped up in their rooms, letting my sister and I fend for ourselves. I wouldn’t say it then, but it hurt, because living in a racially tense area made me want to feel loved. But when I came inside my own home, that love still wasn’t there.
A couple years later, it was just me and my mom. Everyone was gone, but she always had a man in and out of the house. When one of her boyfriends made sexual advances on me, I realized that I deserved to live in a better situation than the one I was living in. When I told my Mother what happened and she did nothing, I left that same day. And just like I did 10 years earlier, I snuck out of the house, got a ride from my neighbor to the Greyhound bus, and came back to Oakland and started living with my aunt.
Now I am proud of my life. After all the drama I have been through, I can only be happy with how I live today. Years after I left Modesto, me and my mother reconciled, and now we are very close to each other. I love my son and I am proud that I am here to help him grow, not only as a person but as a young black man. I work for the IRS as a level 12 Revenue Officer. It took a lot of time and dedication to get to where I am at today, but I believe it has all been worth it.
My proudest moment would have to be hearing my son give his class speech in 8th grade, and it basically being a big thank you letter to me for all I have done for him in his life. It made me feel complete, like what I was doing was right, and it has been tough because I don’t know how parents are supposed to be. My parent wasn’t there, and even though his father isn’t around, he still says he has everything he needs right here in me. When he tells me things like that, it makes me keep going and trying to achieve more than I already have. After all I have been through and where I am out today, I think my life motto would have to be, “I started from the bottom now I’m here.”
This story was written by Renael’s son, Sterling Brown, a student in the Bay Area.