Graduating senior reflects on homelessness, Popsicles
by: Khamera Muhammad, with staff writer Justin Murphy
I was 8 years old, about to turn 9, when my father asked me: “Hey, baby girl, what do you want for your birthday?”
For most little girls, it would be an obvious question. They might ask for toys or games or a party, or even money. For me, though, to say that I was surprised would be an understatement.
For the past year, my family and I had been homeless – bouncing from hotel to hotel, counting on my dad to hustle $50 each day to pay the bill, or all six of us sleeping in our 2001 Chevy conversion van, parked outside the storage unit where we kept all our stuff.
Many nights we went hungry; many nights I stayed up questioning God. They say everything happens for a reason, but at that young age I just couldn’t see it. I constantly would think: Why would God put my family through this much hardship?
That’s why my dad’s question surprised me. I thought about it for a long time, then asked: “Can I have mangoes and Popsicles?”
It seems small, but I knew it wasn’t. With barely enough money to get through the week, we basically survived on TV dinners and fast food. My older sister and brother had to go through their final years of high school with run-down sneakers and clothes that weren’t the nicest. They had to sell candy and my mom’s famous bean pies in order to help us get through.
My dad took me that night to Walmart, where I picked out a package of Incredible Hulk Bomb Pops and two juicy mangoes. As we cashed out and drove back to the Days Inn where we were staying that night, I was grinning like a Cheshire cat. Not only because of my sweet gift, but because I’d witnessed my parents sacrifice to give their child one of the greatest gifts on this Earth – happiness.
We finally found a house many months later, but our situation remained harsh. For a long time we didn’t have heat or furniture, so we made do with a bundle of covers and ourselves, pressed tightly together. As time went on, we slowly got back on our feet and the skies finally cleared.
On Thursday, I will graduate from Rochester Early College International High School with a 3.2 GPA and 12 college credits. I’m the youngest of seven siblings, and we all have our high school diplomas.
I’ve been accepted into 14 colleges for the fall, but I’m still waiting to commit to see if one will offer me a full scholarship. I hope to study political science and become a lawyer; my dad said that since I’m always arguing, I may as well do something useful with it.
You wouldn’t know from looking at me the struggles I went through – my classmates and teachers can tell you I’ve always got a goofy smile on my face – but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten them.
As I reflect back, I realize those were my happiest times. The moments where we had to wear extra layers of clothing and huddle together in our van with a bunch of blankets to keep warm through the night. The moments when we had to hurry to get the hotel continental breakfast before it closed so we could at least have one decent meal that day. The moments where no one knew our struggles because our smiles told them otherwise.
Not only that, but I learned not to judge a book by its cover. Kids can have nice shoes or a confident attitude or anything, but you never know what their life is like when they get home.
Most important, though, I learned at a very young age that home isn’t a physical building where you lay your head down at night and eat home-cooked meals. No – home is where you feel safe and loved, with two mangoes and a box of Popsicles, and the opportunity to wake up every day, go out and strive for something better.
This story is adopted from Khamera Muhammad’s college admissions essay.