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The Dreamers

Martece (Gooden) Yates

I remember this day like it was yesterday: it was in the summer, and we got a knock on our door. We lived in some condos in Southeast at the time. It was this man in a suit, Mr. Williams, telling my mom that I was selected to be a part of this program. We were flabbergasted. We did not believe him, initially. He told us that the criteria was the first year you had to go to Kramer—Kramer was not the best school at the time. Kramer did not have the reputation of being a safe school, let alone a good junior high school. And if you had decent grades, then why would you go there? I probably would have gone to one of the out-of-bounds schools, like Deal, further uptown, that had a better reputation. But when you have someone saying that you're going to get a full ride anywhere you are accepted: Sure, I'll go to Kramer. It was a no-brainer. I always had aspirations to go to college; it was totally expected of me. I mean, I was that kid that ran around Southeast with a Harvard jersey. So, it was perfect. I remember my mom and I going around just telling everybody, everybody about the situation. It was amazing. It gives me the chills now!

When I think about it, I mean, our ZIP code may have designated us as being impoverished, but at home, you know, I always had this family orientation. We had food. We had lights—you know, we had those things. It wasn't like our circumstances were despair. But, when it came to college, I would have been first generation. So, it was just amazing that someone who was rich wanted to do this with their money. It gave me my first sense of charity. Church was one thing, but it's a very different type of charity, you know?  You're committed to it in a different way versus this was someone who was just going to help people that he didn't even know.

We were all together at Kramer, they actually had us in specific homerooms. And we had all kinds of different opportunities: different things that they would take us to, or places we would see. It was great, and it was just unbelievable having Mr. Bumbaugh and Mrs. Rumbarger there to assist you with whatever you needed, to kind of be that advocate for you, that didn't have to be your mom or your dad. I was probably closer to Mr. Bumbaugh. I mean, he was amazing. He was always encouraging and helpful, and he was smart, you know? I’m not saying we didn’t know smart people, but he had a degree.

Another great thing about the program was in my ninth-grade year, I was one of the ones selected to work at ManorCare. And it just really got my interest in the professional arena. Working there didn't seem like your typical summer youth employment jobs where you got this whole big pile of data entry stuff, because it had sat on someone's desk. He really allowed us to move around in different departments. I was able to go into his employee relations department, to the hotel division, I mean, just all over the company. And you got to go visit him in his office and see his assistant, Judy, and just say hi. There was the notion, you know: These are my Dreamers. Make sure you treat them well. And get to know them. I got to meet the most amazing people. I mean, I still have relationships today with people that I used to work with or work for at ManorCare. So I did that every summer. And it was so great that I ended up working for him even after I graduated. So, I was at ManorCare from ninth grade, in the summers, through 12th. And then, after that, all the way up until '97 until I started my current job. It was just an amazing program.

But, what ended up happening for me is, unfortunately, my mother became addicted to drugs—to crack cocaine, and cocaine. And my world just fell apart. It was from being this kid who had this huge support group and everything, to: Oh, my gosh, what is going on here?  I mean, to come home and your phone’d be cut off. Or to just wonder, you know, Where's the car?

Ninth grade was the start of it. And so, at the time, from being embarrassed to not really feeling like I had someone to share that information with, I just didn't know what to do. Around 11th and 12th grade is when it was rock bottom. Thank God I had my sister. It was my sister and I, and we had to survive. My stepfather was kind of back and forth between our house and another house. And he was getting high as well. So, it just—you know, it just was not a good situation. It was like my sister and I turned into the parents, and my mother was the child. We had to be very sneaky with things—people who experience addiction know—like hiding my money. In my bra. But it wasn't like anybody had to say, Okay, make sure you go to school. Make sure you do your homework. Those things I still did. But it was such a difficult time, and I just wish I had someone to talk to or someone who could say, "It's going to be okay. Don't worry. You can do this."

I probably did have that close of a relationship with Mr. Bumbaugh. But I just couldn’t—it was just too embarrassing to share with anyone. Also, at the that time I felt I had an image to maintain: I was popular, I was a good dresser, you know, all that typical little high school childish kind of things, those superlatives, those titles: captain of the majorettes. I was one of those kids who, from the outside looking in: Oh, Martece is fine. I mean, she makes good grades. She comes from a nice family; they have a home. Everything is great. I feel like I should have said something, maybe I could have. If it was today, I would probably shout it from the rafters. But at the time, I don’t know if—in a 15-, 16-, 17-year-old mindset—if I could have done that without some assistance. You know, without someone practically pulling it out.

And once I got to 12th grade, things were really bad. It was just survival. My grades definitely slipped. I was not the honor student that I’d been. And even though I had applied to schools, I felt like, if I left, my mother was going to die. Like, she would have OD'd. And then also, to think about, Oh, my gosh, if I go away to school, how am I going to eat?  Like, there was no notion—without having family who had ever been to college—that, oh, you're on a meal plan, you don't have to worry about that. I had an aunt who just kept saying, "You gotta do it. You gotta go."  And I was, like, “But I can't. She'll OD if I do.” I would never forgive myself if I did that.

So, what I ended up doing was going to UDC. But when I started, I was pregnant with my son. And I did not continue. That was really difficult. Just feeling like, Yes, I want to go school, however, I'm a parent now. And my son's father, who's now my husband, we're still married, still together, but we got a place together and we raised a kid. It was just what had to be done at that time. Beforehand, with Mr. Bumbaugh or Mrs. Rumbarger, it would have been like, Okay, we know Martece is going to go on. I was expected to go, and I really thought I could get there. So that took some time for me to absorb or accept.  It's not much in my life that I think I would change, but that's the one thing—and it's not even just because of the money, per se. It's just that it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And to just come to terms with letting that opportunity get away… If I could get a do-over, that is the one thing I'd probably do over.

There have been times when I’ve sat awake at night just wondering, Oh my gosh, so out of the 67 of us, how many really did it, really took it all the way through and really benefited from the program? I’m not sure why some of the others didn’t. I think some did go to college and just didn’t stay, or had situations like me, where they became parents. As adults, nobody's really embarrassed to talk about it now, so come to find out, many of us were going through the same situations at home. But we just never talked about it. We never talked about it. I mean, because again, at that time, it was—it was embarrassing. It was, like, you know, you were scum; no one saw addiction as a disease then, you know? It was like, you wouldn’t even want to be attached to it.

In retrospect, I feel like one thing the program could have had was someone who had a clinical background to be a counselor or psychologist, with a little research on what some of these kids may be dealing with: What do kids from this side of town experience? What is it like to have a parent that’s addicted to drugs? Or, What is it for a kid to be homosexual and how do you filter through that? So those kinds of social issues. In hindsight now, that probably could have strengthened the program. Because I bet with a lot of us, they didn’t know. And the ones that they did, maybe those were the kids who had the mentors and things like that. Where some extra things were put into place. I think for me, nobody thought I was having a tough time. I masked it very well. But I was a kid dealing with adult responsibilities and adult problems—and I think it would have made a difference for me. I mean, I love my son dearly, but I maybe wouldn't have been a parent at 18.

In my office, I have a picture by Ernie Barnes, a painter, an artist, called, "The Graduate." And it's of a young African-American boy with his cap and gown on. That's, like, my focal point, my motivation. I just continue to picture that. Because actually, I’ve been back in school since fall 2009. I am at Trinity University pursuing my nursing degree. I am a junior now and I just got accepted into the actual nursing program where I can start the clinicals. So I’ve done all my prerequisites, maintained a 3.7, still working full-time, and a mother of two, because I also have a 13-year-old daughter now. My son plays basketball. My daughter does competitive gymnastics. So, trying to juggle all of that, we’re a pretty busy family!

But, hopefully, in two years, I can be walking across that stage, you know, "Martece Yates, B.S.N.!"—you know getting that announcement at graduation. I'm excited about it; I can't wait. I mean, of course, I've taken the tougher road, but you know, it's all about completing it at the end. And then all the people that I get to thank afterwards.

I want to thank Mr. Bainum and his family for everything they have done, as well as Mrs. Rumbarger and Mr. Bumbaugh. Just to thank them for everything they have absolutely done. Just seeing them and wanting to do better. Them showing us a different way. Because of them, we were able to see things in a different light. And all those things have definitely influenced every part of my life—what I plan to do, even with being a parent and facilitating what I want for my kids, exposing them to different things. And with them, college is not a question. You will be disowned first without it. Now, we're starting to look at the pedigree of the degree. My husband and I, we will move hell and high water to do whatever it is we need to do for them.

Really, at the end of the day, I don't have much about my life to complain about. Despite those things I went through, I feel like I made it. I feel like I have a lot to be proud about, you know? I’m so grateful for the program. The experiences will just live with me forever, and I want to help someone like I was helped.