My acceptance into a Doctorate of Education program has single-handedly become my greatest 2016 achievement.
I began a career in higher education unsure of where it was specifically leading. Instead of having it all planned and mapped out, God made me walk step by step. At times, it was frustrating because my levels of ambition often exceeded my circumstances. I wanted to teach more courses, harder courses. But God, made me work at the bottom with patience and diligence. When an opportunity came to serve the Interim Assistant Director of a Master of Fine Arts program, I accepted it. When I was asked to teach a weekend graduate-level course, I took it. The work was hard and it challenged my ability to sit among students and teach them as well as advocate for them among higher administration staff members. Anyone who (really) knows me, knows that I believe in being a high-level achiever and the word “no” doesn’t register well. Hard work coupled with being relentless in the face of adversity is the fabric of my work ethic. I did what was necessary to establish myself, even when it was difficult.
In midst of it all, this Spring my brother suggested, quite casually, that I pursue a doctorate degree. It was a reminder of all the times my mother encouraged me to pursue a doctorate degree. Secretly, I had entertained the idea of continuing school without either one of them knowing. I would always remember the story my mother tells of my 5 -year-old self, speaking to the television during the Oprah Winfrey Show when her guest was an African American female pediatrician, saying “I didn’t know we could be doctors.” Was it African American people or African American women? In any event, that was the moment I decided that being a doctor was something I could do. And then…life happened. I could barely handle math and science courses in college which stifled my passion for becoming a pediatrician. I chose to pursue what I felt God wanted for me all along and that was a life with words.
In the beginning of this Summer, my mother gave me a gift. A bracelet with the phrase “she believed she could so she did” engraved in it. She asked me, “what do you believe about yourself?”. I told her the first two things that came to mind; I would one day become a doctor and a wife. She smiled and told me, “then go do it”.
While at 5, I thought about being a medical doctor, the story God was weaving together was different. He knew I would become a different type of doctor, one that I would have to discover incrementally by being faithful over what He asked me to do which was to write, advocate, educate, and lead.
Very few people knew about my doctorate degree application process. But, everyone who knew believed I would have no problem getting into any program. So, I believed in me, people believed in me, and God made a way for me.
I worked diligently on applications while asking myself one strategic question: what do you intend on doing with this degree?
Essay after essay, revision after revision the answer became clearer. I want to be one of the graduates of public education who defy the numbers that say we are insufficient, unable to learn, and destined to live a life of mediocrity. I want to lead educational initiatives that are for the people by the people. I want students to see a black woman from urban America who is at the top making decisions because she knows what it is like to sit in the seat of uncertainty and fight to attain personal success.
I know the journey to pursuing a doctorate degree won’t be easy, but it’s necessary. There is work to be done: grassroots work, political work, policy work, soul work, God’s work. This is a triumphant moment for me as well as for my family. I wish my grandmothers could see just how far their prayers have carried me. I wish my grandfathers could see how tall I stand on their foundation.
2016 was hard, but nothing good comes easy. I want to encourage anyone reading this to understand that there is a story God has written for your life. Your job is to follow the signs, walk through the open doors, and accept challenges as refinement. Every “bad” decision I made was absolutely the right decision. Discomfort told me I was making mistakes, but God showed me that without discomfort I would not know my true strength and abilities. The same is for you if you submit to the process. Clean up your life, tighten up your hustle and work. A new year is on its way and in 12 months you can be living a completely different life!
To my family:
Thank you, Dad for praying me into this world. Legit, I didn’t exist and you asked God for me and He answered. I wish every woman could be raised by a man who prayers for them as deeply as you’ve prayed for me and my future.
Thank you, Mom for being so graceful, independent, and hard working. I am because you are. Your maiden name is perfect because you truly are the Best. I’m honored to be an extension of you.
Thank you, Ellis for being fearless. Thank you for telling me, months ago, that this was my next move. You always see in me what I cannot see in myself. I cannot fathom having any other sibling but you. All my wins are yours, too.
Please encourage me. Please pray for me.
I love you. God loves you. The future DOCTOR Stanley, Ed.D
-Erika Kimberly Stanley, M.F.A.