Category Archives: Community Opinion

Scott: Being a First-Generation High School and College Graduate

By Essence B. Scott

If not for my parents’ honesty about their education, I would not have graduated from high school or college. Their honesty gave me the courage to remain in school, even as mental health issues burst my world open. I knew that I could not quit, knew I had to double down. I had to make an effort to graduate from high school.

The room we were in, Room 24 at the Trails End Motel in Windsor, affectionately called “The Trailey” by my Ma even today, further influenced my need to attain my high school diploma and Associates in Arts in Liberal Arts from Mercer County Community College. I knew I did not want to be homeless, in a motel room year after year, with the prices going up. I knew that I wanted and needed a place of my own. I knew education— attending school— doing my best on my schoolwork—would be my key. I knew I never wanted to live in another motel room for the rest of my life, and definitely not with children in tow.

The transition period from high school to college was not without its struggle. Though smart, I was underprepared for the more intense coursework–the readings from several different courses, the papers to write, the Math homework that will not do itself. I ultimately stopped. I tried taking five and six courses at a time and burned out of all of them. I learned that just because my peers were taking five and six courses a semester doesn’t mean I should.

Asking for help was something that I found embarrassing. I had always been an independent type, and sometimes asking for help made me feel badly. I was supposed to grasp this information. I was supposed to be able to do this on my own, no assistance, no help.

I really do wish I had waited a couple of years after high school before applying to college. I would have been better off for it.

Ultimately, being the first to graduate makes me ecstatic. I did this. I pulled it off—name correctly spelled and (my full first, middle, and last names on my high school diploma, my first name, middle initial, and last name), pronounced correctly.

To other first-generation college students, to the parents who return to school years later, older, wiser, maybe even with children, I say congratulations and I wish you all the best and more. I say to read up on and learn your rights and responsibilities. I would say to find out more about college preparation programs. Lastly, I would say that if we do not feel comfortable about college straight after high school, then it is okay not to go to college. Maybe we’ll learn a little more about ourselves, gain more confidence. Consider going to trade school. The possibilities are endless.

Essence B. Scott is a longtime community contributor to The Streetlight who experienced homelessness in Mercer County as a child. A native of the capital region, Scott now resides in North Carolina.

Scott: ‘Tis the Season for Unity

By Essence B. Scott

Every year, usually around October or November, there is a flurry of activity in the air. Adults of all stripes are looking to do something for the children they oversee. For some, this is easy. For others, not so much. There might not be enough money to go around to buy gifts and pay rent and other expenses. Some families struggle to find a job or, in some cases, work two jobs to make ends meet.

HomeFront does a lot for these struggling families. I know. I was in one of those families. Every year, there is a call for donations to build Thanksgiving food baskets for these families. No one should be hungry at any time during the year. I remember when my family was at the Pine Motel in Bordentown. We hadn’t had any food in a few days, when we heard a knock at the door. Food! Someone had delivered food! My mom thanked the kind volunteers profusely. So did my siblings and I. We fully embraced our simple, daily Grace that day. Our prayers had definitely been answered. Emotions were running high. The food made us happy.

At around Christmastime, there are a lot of gifts given out and games played. Every year, we went to see A Christmas Carol at McCarter Theatre in Princeton. At dinner and during the show, there is a sense of community that made the space hum with excitement. Some years, we actually met some of the cast of the play and they would sit and talk with us about it. A teaching artist from McCarter would come to our art class in the month or so leading up to the play and do acting exercises with us.

Another fond memory that stands out for me is the big Christmas party at The Pennington School. It was a time for everyone to get together and enjoy the holiday, even if a family was low on food or money for gifts. There were games and toys and I think Karaoke too. Kids could play outside. Parents could talk, and rest assured everyone got a good meal–usually turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and vegetables. For dessert: ice cream. Student volunteers, our hosts, made sure we were full and content. They worked very hard to engage both kids and parents alike in conversation and making sure all was well. HomeFront staff would be there to celebrate with the families they helped over the course of the year or several years. It really was a fun time, and I know it takes plenty of effort from them to send invitations out, manage RSVPs, and to just make it a good time. It shows beautifully.

Another tradition that HomeFront has is giving out gifts to the children. Every year, families fill out a wishlist with a couple items that volunteers go out and buy for the kids. It is a wonderful feeling to receive gifts, especially when a child might not get any due to lack of family finances.

There are other things that HomeFront does for the families they serve, perhaps another article’s worth. I am beyond grateful to HomeFront and what they have done for my family. I hope one day that I could pay it forward somehow.

Scott: Food Meets Family

By Essence Scott

Food is a popular topic of conversation in my family.

We all enjoy talking about a good meal just as much as we enjoy eating one. Growing up, I remember my mother always cooking meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, and my personal favorite pepper steak (our name for onion steak because it has no peppers in it).

My sister used to love (and still does) everything that my mother made. I also remember most of these foods being made in the microwave.

On the second day of every month, my mother would buy what she could from the long list of foods that we had been craving: Purdue chicken and hot wings galore.

Of course, we were not so fortunate to have many of these foods when we were living in motels. When we were living here, there was no stove to make pepper steak or meatloaf in. And before we moved from the Trails End Motel, we had been eating canned goods for approximately two years.

When the school nurse gave my family gift certificates every so often, we would walk to the diner and eat pancakes at four in the afternoon. The walk to the diner felt short. There were no sidewalks, only grassy areas.

I remember all of us staying in the grass, talking as we walked. When we got into the diner, it felt homey: safe, warm, inviting, and friendly. There were games that we could play, but they always cost money.

We ordered pancakes with butter and syrup. We ordered hot chocolate. My siblings and I were just kids but my mother would let us get what we wanted.

When we were not at the diner, we’d talk about the foods our mom would cook for us when we moved. Meatloaf slathered in ketchup, meatballs bathed in gravy. Pork chops.

We talked about ice cream — any food we did not have, we spoke about excitedly. Talking about food became my family’s way of discussing a better quality of life.

It is difficult to leave a lifestyle behind, especially if you are still entrenched in the happy moments from that time — despite
their brevity.

Nowadays, my mother always wants to know if I am “eating well.” For her, “eating well” is a hearty, home-cooked meal, or even a small meal from a restaurant — something that my family does not always get an opportunity to do.

But she is happy to see me eating well — unhealthily, sometimes so, but, for her, still better. And I am happy too.