At 8 months, Karlene Richardson, a Jamaican, was given over to her grandparents by her 18-year-old mother. Fifteen years later, she yearned to live with her mother, who had migrated to the United States.
Unheard of, Karlene went to the U.S. Embassy and applied for a visa to travel to America. Surprisingly, she was granted a 10-year visa, without the accompaniment of an adult. She left the secured home of her grandparents to finally know what it was like to live with her mom.
Living in a small apartment of only three rooms, Karlene’s bedroom occupied a space that also served as the living room, dining room and kitchen.
She was introduced to her mother’s friends’ daughters to hang out with, one of whom set her up with a date. She was raped, and later found out she was pregnant. Karlene decided to keep the baby.
Shortly after, mother and her young daughter both became homeless when her mother kicked them out. They slept on the trains of New York City, showeried at friends’ homes and at her daughter’s godmother’s home, which they eventually made their home for a short time.
They were then sent to a cousin, who afforded Karlene a space to live – in a partially abandoned building in Brooklyn, one of New York’s five boroughs. The stairs to the third floor where Karlene and her daughter lived were worn, and often Karlene had to walk with care, afraid that one day both she and her daughter would fall through to the floor below.
Without a green card, she was unable to work. Karlene begged on street corners in order to buy diapers and food for her daughter and herself. Her dinner was leftovers from the lunches of the construction workers who fixed the partially abandoned building they called home.
One day as she searched for something to quench her thirst, she saw a bottle of soda perched against the window sill. One sip and she quickly realized it was Pinesol.
She knew her life had to change. And that it did.
Today, Dr. Richardson is a professor who uses her story to inspire her students. She details the events of her life from homelessness to abused spouse to becoming a professor who motivates her students to not give up reaching for their dreams.
Dr. Richardson travels to as many places as she can to spread her story of hope to anyone who will listen.
“Unfortunately, many women are ashamed of their past,” she said. “And that shame leads to low self-esteem which, inadvertently leads to a woman not being able to realize her full potential.
“If I can reach just one life, to make an impact, then what I have gone through was worth it all.”