Celebrating My Teenager, Honoring Our Ancestors


Lately, me, and mine, have been in a celebratory mood as we watch the possibilities unfold for my teenager, Alyssa.  Alyssa, my middle child, has always been the academically focused one.  She has consistently, despite any challenges, kept her “eye on the prize” and excelled academically.

In an effort to provide her with the best education possible, I made the decision to put Alyssa in KIPP/GCP when she began middle school.  This was not an easy decision for me.   Our home was 1 hour and 15 minutes away from the middle school, and, there were no buses traveling this way to provide transportation for her.  As a working mom, I had to lean on my village to ensure that she made it to, and from, school each day.  As if that were not enough to consider,  I also had to grapple with the fact that the school day was longer than the traditional schools, in that Alyssa would be required to be in school from 8am to 5pm on Monday thru Thursday, and, from 8am to 2pm on Friday.  Would this rigid schedule we would have to maintain kill her academic spirit?


After finally deciding that KIPP/GCP was the best environment for Alyssa, I never received one complaint from her.  As she rode up and down the road in middle school, she would quietly sit in the car and use that travel time to get her homework done.  Fortunately, after two years of our rigid schedule, circumstances allowed us to reduce the commute time for a number of years. But, we have now returned to the middle school routine.    And, just as she did in middle school, Alyssa has buckled down and accepted the commute. She remains focused and steadfast in her pursuit of excellence.  And, that focus and determination has put her in a position, as a high school senior, to have an abundance of options about the path she will travel down during the journey she is about to embark on in less than a year.  So, to share in her joy as she receives acceptance letter after acceptance letter from colleges everywhere is exciting, to say the least.

While rejoicing in the accomplishments of my teenager, I also shed tears.  Those who know me know that I am a proud African-American woman who believes that it is our duty as a people to honor those that fought and sacrificed so that we can have the opportunities that we have today.  And, while I, on the back of my mother, have excelled, I do not fool myself into believing that we are even close to “arriving”. In fact, I am constantly reminded, through my work in the arena of “justice”, just how far we have to go.   And because of this, I provide my back to my children and continue to push and encourage them, as my mother pushed me.


Sometimes I fear that I overwhelm my children, with the sense of obligation I place upon them to excel not only for us, but for our people.  I forget what a tremendous burden that can be for a teenager or young adult, as he or she is trying to figure out where they fit in this world.  But it seems that my children, despite any misgivings they may have, have accepted this awesome responsibility.

The other day we were texting about the colleges that had extended an offer of acceptance to Alyssa. During the text conversation, my oldest daughter, Sierra, told Alyssa:

You are the true dream and hope of the slave.  Not even a hundred years ago what you are doing we were told would never happen.  You are what our ancestors have fought for.  Of course we are going to celebrate your success, because it is for all of our people.

Those words summed of every emotion and explained every tear that I have shed during this awesome time in our life.   And, as I read those words, I was confident that the lessons that I had learned from my mother, and was passing down to my girls, were being learned.

I am one proud mom!!

Published by Tonza D. Ruffin

Perfectly Imperfect but VERY PROUD WOMAN, MOM, LAWYER, and AUTHOR, but most importantly...LIFE LOVER! I laugh loud, I work hard, I play hard, I am adventurous, I am curious, I am driven, I have moments of deep insecurity, I am loving, I am vulnerable, I am explosive (not one of my finer qualities), I dance around my house alone, I am an awful perfectionist which makes my insecurity worse, I sing out loud in my car without any concern for whose watching, I have trust issues, I do not live through my children, I no longer try to force my children into the mold that I created so that I could feel validated as a mother, I am a risk-taker, I am guarded in my personal life, I am kind, I am grateful. I am so excited about the rest of my life!

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