Ending seven years of living on the streets was one of the greatest achievements of my life. Looking back, it all started with a simple prayer and a desire to dance.
There is another bit of Chinese philosophy that has a bearing on problems common to all human kind. We say, “The oak tree is mighty, yet it will be destroyed by a mighty wind because it resists the elements; the bamboo bends with the wind, and by bending, survives.” ~ Bruce Lee
You know the feeling.
Hard times, a constant cycle of lessons surfacing again and again, the veils of limiting beliefs keeping you from manifesting your desires or everyone throwing bricks when you’re down.
This was my story.
I was 25 and cleaning houses while homeless. One day, I decided to grab a copy of the Village Voice, a local newspaper in New York City. I opened it and there it was. An opportunity to audition for a scholarship to study at Alvin Ailey. At the time, I had no clue of who or what Alvin Ailey was.
So I asked. Quickly I discovered that Alvin Ailey was one of the best dance schools and companies in the world. I had never studied dance but, in that moment, I believed that I could attain the impossible.
As a result, I made a prayer to the Divine that if the wind paved a way for me to leave the streets and move into my first flat then I would dance in celebration of my life.
A month later, I arrived to the school full of ambition and a belief that the judges would notice my infinite passion and grant me access.
Then, reality happened.
The first part of the audition was ballet. I had never seen nor tried ballet. Naturally, I did what I do best. I winged it and immediately got my release papers.
Needless to say, I was devastated. While sitting in the preparation room with my head hanging low, one of the dancers came up to me and said, “don’t be hard on yourself because at least you tried. You showed a lot of heart. Train and try again.”
With those words, I once again went in relentless pursuit of my dream of being a dancer. After all, I made a promise to the Divine.
That’s when my faith was tested
My friend Amituse contacted me and told me about a Lebanese woman named Carol who owned a dance school that would allow me to take dance classes in exchange for cleaning.
Carol is an amazing woman who opened doors for me. I told her my dream and she assisted me in getting into classes that were reserved for advanced students. Due to the challenge, I quickly excelled.
Several months later, it happened. On my 25th birthday an acquaintance of mine offered me their flat. Sounds like a dream come true but, in fact, this is when the bricks started flying.
You see, I had no identification. At the time, I was cleaning the house for another powerful woman in my life named Christina who could only pay me in checks so I relied on this acquaintance of mine to cash them. He moved out and I moved in. Only to find that he owed three months back rent.
To make matters worse, I had trusted him with $1300. All of which I never saw again. I was in the flat for a few weeks before being back on the streets again.
Through it all, I continued dancing.
Then one day, I had the urge to attend a poetry reading on the Lower East Side. I enjoyed writing poetry but this was the first time that I would share my words publicly. Afterwards, an eighty-year old retired English professor approached me. His body was frail, suspenders barely keeping his paints up and his hair was like Einstein.
“Would you care to have some tea with me,” he asked.
His name was Stanley. Over tea I explained my situation. He offered a spot on his living room couch. I agreed and offered to clean his home and run errands in return.
Several months went by.
Throughout it all, I never stopped dancing in celebration of my life.
Finding Courage through the dance of life
Then, the impossible happened.
Stanley handed me $1500 and told me to go and look for my flat.
Finally, a victory. However, this was only half the battle. I needed to convince a management company or landlord to take a risk.
As I mentioned before, I had no identification but I believed that if the money found its way into my life then the doors to my flat would open.
After several weeks of searching, it did just that. I walked into an old run down pre-civil war building in Harlem. The flat I was scheduled to see was on the sixth floor.
Accompanying me was the agent for the management company. It was a section eight building. Meaning that everyone living there was on government assistance. There was a gambling and crack house on the first floor. The stairs sang with aching pain as we made our way up to the top.
I walked in and in that moment knew that this was where I would being laying my head.
“I’ll take it,” I said with enthusiasm. “Ok but I’ll need to see your identification, bank statements, etc so that we can process the paperwork and check your references.”
That’s when my heart sank. I had never been in this situation before but in that moment I offered the best credentials that I possessed. My heart.
“Listen,” I said. “I don’t have any of the items you’re requesting. I’m trying to get off the streets and if you trust me and give me a shot then I won’t let you down. You’ll always have the rent.”
I waited anxiously for his response, which seemed like an eternity to reach my ears.
“This is against company policy but I don’t know what it is about you but I believe you,” he said. “I want to help you. The flat is yours.”
And with that, I was handed the keys. Needless to say, joy spread throughout my body. After taking care of the necessary procedures, I headed to class that night and celebrated with a dance.
In the end, I auditioned for Alvin Ailey four more times. I never accomplished my goal of obtaining a scholarship but what I acquired was priceless.
A hidden treasure.
I discovered my inner strength. Most importantly, I discovered that every day and every moment is a gift and life is our present.