by Ken Boddye
At many junctures in my adult life, I had chosen the role of activist, volunteer and organizer, but never candidate or public servant. The election of President Obama made me realize that someone with my background could make a difference, but I still had doubts about my ability and my will to do what it took.
When I lost my mother in April of last year, however, I realized that I had reached a crossroads.
I had a choice — I could simply continue to be someone just beyond the sidelines, volunteering for campaigns, and advocating for a handful of issues that mattered to me personally. I could simply stay primarily a private citizen and pursue a comfortable life like many others understandably do.
Instead, I chose to reflect upon my life, my mother’s life. This diary is about her.
My mother lived a hard and full life, but she had been held back at various points; cast out from her grandmother’s home before she could graduate from High School, she did whatever she had to in order to survive, and it led her down a path of homelessness, substance abuse, and other road blocks.
Despite those shortcomings, though, my mother is probably the strongest person I have — and will ever — know. She had to teach herself many life skills on the streets that most of us have the comfort and luxury of learning while still living with our parents, or in the company of our peers. She tried her best to remain part of my life after she and my father got divorced, even living with us for several years in spite of their differences.
She even devoted herself to serving others as a nurse, working in hospitals and convalescent homes. When others sought positions elsewhere, my mother stayed with those who needed it most and asked for nothing in return but an income that would allow her to survive and to help my father in raising me. She eventually earned her GED and tried her best to better herself.
More than anything else, though, my mother was an outgoing person. With her background, and the struggles she went through, she could have very well been a jaded, withdrawn, and vengeful person, but she wasn’t. Whenever she could muster the will, she put on a strong and friendly front; she cooked like nobody’s business and often crafted displays for our front yard that one would see on the set of a movie. She held onto her social life so strongly that she chose to spent the last of her days out in the community rather than in an assisted living facility.
I never got the chance to say goodbye, but I take solace in the fact that she died how she lived — on her own terms.
Once I came to accept that fact, I realized that she would want me to do the same. I also realized that many of the problems she encountered in her life were a result of her being cast out before she could graduate, and there were very few systems in place to help her. She wasn’t given a mental health evaluation until a year before she passed, for example, and it was discovered that she was bipolar. If she had been diagnosed much earlier on, I have no doubt that medication would have altered the trajectory of her life significantly.
And now that I live in Virginia, I see many of the same problems, and the same lack of proper priorities by our legislators. Our system is still one where we would rather hide and criminalize our mentally ill, those struggling with substance abuse, and our homeless, rather than investing in the types of systems necessary to support them. Just this year, there is a wait list of over 11,000 disabled people in Virginia who need waivers necessary to receive care and vital services. That doesn’t get into the lack of facilities for mental health in Prince William County, or the lack of sufficient affordable housing.
I’m running for Delegate of Virginia’s 51st District because we need statesmen who are willing to do the work of the people; forging partnerships on all levels of government to confront the issues facing our society. For far too long we’ve had legislators who have focused more on scoring points with their base, or drafting softball bills that don’t do nearly enough to improve and save the lives of our fellow Virginians. With a House of Delegates dominated by Republicans, partisanship has become the order of the day, and people are suffering because of it.
I can no longer sit idly by as I know there are those who have been left behind by our system just like my mother was left behind. Especially with a new administration that is already prioritizing cuts, freezes, and partisan red meat, I’m running to be part of a statewide fire wall against the forces of regression. We’ll need all hands on deck this year, which is why I’m committed to the cause of 90 for 90.org, bringing as many people into the political process as possible.
My mother is in a better place, but I know she’s with me in this fight for progress. I hope all of you are with me, too.