Today, I am looking forward to celebrating this very special woman who brought me into this world many years ago; and who, on this journey, taught me about being kind, laughing often, appreciating every day, saying ‘thank you’ and ‘I’m sorry’, and giving to lift others up. My adorable mom brightens my life in so many ways. I love her so much. Happy Mother’s Day!
Several of my friends shared their thoughts and photos of their mothers, in celebration of Mother’s Day.
My mother never told me what to do, rather she taught by living her life as an example of how to be a good person, and how to treat others. She was kind, always. She treated everyone she met with respect, and a smile. She saw the good in people. How lucky I was to have her– I hope I’m good at those things, too. She was my greatest champion and friend. When I spoke at her funeral, I said, “I sure am glad I had her for my mom for 33 years, rather than someone I didn’t like very much for 70!” The time with her was too short, but I am reminded of how fortunate I have been when I meet someone new who knew her. Almost to a person, they take my hand and say, “You’re Linda’s daughter?!?”….it feels like they are happy just to be with someone who reminds them of her. And that is a gift to me.
I’m a lucky man to be born to this woman. Her sacrifices and hard work laid the foundation for not only me, but my children. She was a parent at 17 and raised three children, mostly by herself. We didn’t have much at all, but we had a ton of guidance and love. As I navigate parenting, I turn to the example she set and the things she taught. Sydney and Tyson just love her for being grandma, but they are going to hear stories about her for the rest of her life and some day they will understand her greatness and impact on the people they become.
That is my older sister Emily Pack and my mom is Cathy Young. “The first thing my mom gave me was her smile and then she taught my siblings and I how to use it well! She was a nurse who cured with medicine and her quick smile. She is my example of selflessness, strength and unconditional love. She is who I strive to be.”
While most of my posts have to do with local, Cincinnati-based people, I was very compelled by the story of Clementine Bihiga, an inspirational author and speaker. I think that you will be too. While the first part of her story is very painful to read, it is important for us to learn from it. And how that little girl who witnessed far more than any human being should ever have to see and experience in their lifetime, found her inner strength, channeled it and is using it to inspire others is nothing short of incredible. Thank you to Clementine, for your openness in sharing and helping others.
The true story of Clementine told in her own words…
Sometimes as humans, we are so quick to give up.
Its easy to see ourselves as victims instead of victors.
As losers instead of conquerors.
As invalids instead of masterpieces.
As hopeless instead of hopeful.
How many times have we been turned down and decided to stop?
How often do we take rejection as a sign that it’s not meant to be?
Seek others’ approval before running after our dreams?
Feel defeat because things are not going our way?
As a refugee, I started facing rejection at a very young age. For starters, I fled my country when I was eight years old and had to fend for myself when my parents disappeared for a period of two weeks. When I eventually reunited with our parents, my naive self, thought I was going back home to Rwanda.
That didn’t happen.
In these camps, malaria, cholera, typhoid, etc. claimed over half of the refugees there. We would wake up every day and find ourselves surrounded by dead bodies. At this point, l felt like life wasn’t worth living. This was too much for my little 8-year-old brain and body to handle.
Fear was my best friend.
One day I went to Lake Kivu to fetch water and wash a shirt my mother had bought me. I had to lay on a “log” as an anchor so that I could swim towards the shirt (I couldn’t swim) and when I made the small leap so that I could grab my shirt, the log turned and I saw that it was actually a dead body.
There was not enough room to bury bodies during the genocide, bodies were being thrown in the lake. We used this water for drinking, cooking, washing clothes, dishes and bathing.
Life wasn’t fair. I wanted to give up.
When my family eventually got to the U.S.A., I was bullied in high school for being “different.” Every day, I would want to quit going to school because I had suffered so much. It felt like life was not giving me a break.
At the age of 29, I lost a daughter when I was 27 weeks pregnant. No one could explain why I lost her. I was told it’s like getting into a car accident. I felt lost and angry and many more emotions. After this, I really wanted to give up.
I looked around for an answer. What was my purpose in this life? Why did I feel like I was being targeted? I told God to fix everything. To fix the hatred that’s going on in this world, the heartache, the hunger, the diseases, I wanted God to do something…until I realized HE already had.
God created me! I am a masterpiece! He made me and gave me my unique capabilities so I can be a light to the darkness that’s going on in this world. He gave me a life, and a story I could share with the world to inspire and motivate people to be the best they can be, to make an impact in other people’s lives.
After this realization, I knew what I had to do! I made the decision not so see myself as a victim but a victor, not as hopeless but hopeful, not as a loser but a conqueror, not an invalid but a masterpiece!
Being hopeful meant that I knew that whatever comes my way, I would be able to go through it and come out a stronger person. It meant that I could go through hard times and know that they are temporary. When tough times came, I found myself being excited to meet the new and improved “Clementine” once it was all over. This is how I chose to live like a conqueror!
I sat down in front of my computer and wrote a book in English, my fourth language. I prayed my book would be in the hands of those who needed motivation, inspiration, a second chance and a light in the darkness. Happily Broken:Discovering Happiness Through Pain and Suffering is a testimony that we can choose our pain to either break us or to inspire others. The fact that I’m from a war torn country, lived in refugee camps and settlements, was discriminated against and bullied and that I had to bury my child didn’t mean that my life was over. I understand that I life, its not what we go through, but it’s what we create, what we conquer and what we aim to achieve. I chose to make an impact by sharing my story, a story of hope, resilience, overcoming adversity and dancing while at it! Yes, I love to dance. My talks often start with dancing….to show audiences that life is a beautiful dance!
To me, happiness is when I’m doing what I love, which is motivational public speaking and making an impact in the lives of others. In my talks, I inspire and motivate others to be GRATEFUL, AUTHENTIC, RESILIENT and IMPACT-FUL. Recently, I inspired a group of college students at Anna Maria College to start a campus wide movement to support a refugee school in the slums of Kenya through my fund, the Clarette Refugee Fund established in honor of my daughter! Remember, If an 8 year old refugee girl can do it, so can you!
Thank you to everyone who came to my second A Night of CINspiration event, and to speakers Leila Kubesch and Kelly Richey, my volunteer Maya Odom, and the staff of Tavern on the Hill in Mt. Adams for making it another special event. Please see the photos below and video. I hope to see you at the next event!
Note: the photo below is part of a photo album. Click on the arrows on the image to move forward or backward.
A Night of CINspiration is a happy hour get-together organized by Good Things Going Around with a twist – the events are meant to be opportunities for people to meet and be uplifted by other positive thinking people, from diverse backgrounds. Speakers at each event are people who have been featured in the blog.
At young ages, they have learned about overcoming challenges, about values and role models, and about setting and achieving goals. And, they are headed to college with the help of YWCA Mamie Earl Sells Scholarships. In all ten Greater Cincinnati female African American senior high school students were recognized for their academic achievements and qualities of leadership, extracurricular involvement and community service.
Meet the Top Scholarship Recipient
Sydney Mantell from North College Hill High School
From her vantage point as a high school senior, Sydney Mantell is now aware of the insecurities and challenges she faced as a child. Raised in a biracial family by a single mother and a father she met only a few times, she struggled with racial identification, acceptance and self-confidence. But today, she is the Head Student Mentor of Girls Creating Change at North College Hill High School. The student-run and academic organization helps forge supportive, sisterly bonds between high school girls, focused on improved self-esteem, better grades and fewer discipline problems. Buoyed by her own success on the ACT and SAT entrance tests, the Straight-A student also created the Not-So-Standard Standardized Test Prep to help classmates improve their scores. Sydney is also captain of the varsity volleyball team, captain and co-founder of the Varsity Academic Team, and member of the school’s Drama Department and its Student Leadership Team. At the Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America at Princeton University, she studied biology, zoology and marine biology. Sydney plans to study biology at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill with a goal of one day supporting international conservation efforts.
Sydney received a $3000 scholarship.
Meet the Runners-Up
Miracle Flowers from Western Hills High School
Miracle and her mom have been through a lot together. Miracle calls her mom her role model. She has watched her lift herself up and Miracle is determined to do that for herself. At a very young age, Miracle realized that education and hard work are the keys to her success. She is in both Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment courses (for college credit). She has a 4.5 GPA and is ranked 2nd in her class. She holds leadership positions at school and serves as a Student Ambassador for school events and also serves on the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council representing Western Hills. Miracle works part time and is proud that she was able to purchase her own car and save for college tuition. She is well liked and respected by her peers and the school administration. Miracle has been accepted into the University of Cincinnati’s prestigious Design, Architecture, Art and Planning program where she will study Fashion.
Janiah Miller from Newport High School
Janiah knows about personal change and redemption. She embodies integrity and character. However, this is not always how she lived her life. Janiah got involved with some dangerous kids and she made some poor decisions. But Janiah owns those decisions, and she is determined to look forward and not regret the past. She will use past experiences to help fuel her drive to be a better person every day. Janiah is a student athlete, is Captain of the Cheerleading squad and President of the Student Council. She is an active member in Future Business Leaders of America and has placed in Public Speaking in their state conference. Janiah plans to attend Northern Kentucky University and study Political Science with a double minor in peace and social justice studies and pre-law. When asked about her plans for the future, she replied: “I want to create policies that will help the less fortunate and also close the gap on gender equality”.
Miracle and Janiah each received a $1000 scholarship.
Honorable Mentions each receiving a $250 Scholarship include Hemen Aklilu, Mother of Mercy High School, Leola Colvin, Clark Montessori High School, Precious Gary, Oyler High School, Danielle Udosen, Fairfield High School, Kayla Walker, Princeton High School, Felicia White, St. Ursula Academy, Tianna Woodford, Purcell Marian High School
About the YWCA Mamie Earl Sells Scholarship Fund:
Established in 1993, nearly 50 applications from over 20 schools are accepted each fall, and an independent panel of community leaders and educators makes the final decision on the scholarship recipients.
The scholarship serves as a memorial to Mamie Earl Sells, a dedicated community volunteer who gave her time, intellect, and enthusiasm to the YWCA. The scholarship upholds the vision and leadership she provided to the YWCA and its Career Women of Achievement program through enacting her philosophy that we must “lift as we climb” by acting as role models to the young women of today and tomorrow. The Mamie Earl Sells Scholarship is awarded each year in coordination with the YWCA Career Women of Achievement Luncheon. This year’s luncheon is Wednesday, May 11th, 2016.
About the YWCA:
The YWCA IS ON A MISSION to eliminate racism, empower women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. YWCA Greater Cincinnati has been serving the community since 1868. It serves more than 35,000 women and their families each year through programs in crisis intervention, health and wellness, education and training, youth services, and recognition and advocacy. For more information call the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati at (513) 241-7090 or visit www.ywcacincinnati.org.