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The Dreamers

Tenille Warren

Mr. Bumbaugh is a very persistent man. Very persistent. I tried everything I could to push his larger than life ambitions away. I really was not interested in “having a dream”. I didn't even know what I was a part of. I mean, I had been given some information about the program, but it was really hard to focus on anything like that. My home life was a major distraction. But I'll tell you: because Mr. Bumbaugh was so persistent, I had to try and let go of the pity party, and try to break away from low self-esteem. He wouldn't allow it. He wouldn't allow the negativity. He wouldn't allow the self-negative talk. He wouldn't allow the defeated spirit. He wouldn’t allow the laziness. He just would NOT allow it. He was perfect for that program!

So for me, I Have a Dream is synonymous with this man. He was, like, our guardian angel. He cared for our lives, gave more attention to our lives than our families did. I don't know everybody's family story, I really don't. But definitely, whatever our parents were doing at home, when he came in, he interrupted whatever was going on if it didn’t line up with what the program was offering and his own high expectations of you. I thought he was absolutely crazier than me. I don't know what they told him in his handbook when he was employed, but whatever it said, he was, for me personally, the greatest benefit of that program.

And Mr. Bumbaugh took that extra step to come outside of just the school walls to come into our homes and to deal with our family issues and our neighborhood lifestyles. Because there were things that I would go through at home that had nothing to do with his role at I Have a Dream, but he would be there. Nobody's going to say, Hey, we've got this girl, she's a Dreamer, and she's in an abusive home. Go over and get involved. Get invested. I mean, no one asked him to do that. At best, they're asking you to provide some guidance in their school work, make sure that they're behaving, help them with some college applications—that sort of thing. But nobody asks you to care. Mr. Bumbaugh and Mrs. Rumbarger are people that actually did care and you could tell. And we were no angels. We could give you a run for your money!

I guess Mr. Bumbaugh just sees people at their potential. And he has a knack for identifying what he feels people are good at, paying attention to what your gifts and talents are, and finding ways to help you to put it to use. He's the reason why I ended up at an art school. All of the other Dreamers went to Eastern Senior High. And I ended up ALLLL the way in Georgetown, by myself, going to Duke Ellington from 8:00am to 5:00pm. And I'm like, why would you do that to a child? That’s a job! It took a long time for me to even accept my artistic talent as a part of me. Initially, it was just something that I did for my mother, because I saw how much she enjoyed it. I was upset with my mother when she told me I had to go there. I was, like, “Mr. Bumbaugh put that bright idea in your head.” I wasn't necessarily mad at him, because by that time, I already knew the type of person he was, and knew that he was always expecting the best, and always driving that greater potential. But she kind of surprised me. And it wasn't until I graduated, and I had accomplished so many different things creatively that I was able to tell her thank you. It was the best decision my mother had ever made for me and to this day, she's always believed in me as an artist and continues to be my #1 fan.

After I was done with high school, I wasn't thinking about a career as an artist. I was thinking about making money so that I could get away from my situation. Like, I gotta get out of here. I was not interested in college. I guess it's wasn’t the cultural thing—that's not the goal that was being encouraged. Yeah, that's always been encouraged in the school, but in the home life, everything was contrary to that. It was all about get out there and get on your own. So, I had no interest or desire for school after high school. It was all about taking care of myself. When you get 18, you're grown, and you have to take care of yourself and do things on your own.

For me, trusting myself is the hardest thing. How do you detach from this poverty mindset that you've grown up with for some 20-odd years and try to inherit a mindset of reaching your greatest potential? How do you do that, when all you know is fear, doing just enough to get by, and to not value life? I had always struggled with that whole culture of what my pastor labels “the generational curse.” And when you struggle with that, that’s a huge burden to overcome.

It can be broken, but it takes people who break the curse to be willing to reach out to others and show them what they did, show them how to do it. I think that everyone can be reached. I guess share a piece of what you have in your life with them, so that they can get to a place where they believe in something, too.

Once I was able to get past the safe zone—the safety of making enough money to take care of myself, of not being afraid to be an artist, doors just opened. In 2006, I went with my church to help establish a new church in Atlanta. And every day, driving on the highway to work, we would pass this school called Savannah College of Art and Design. I would stare at that school till it was no longer in sight. And one day, I just decided, I'm going to schedule a visit. On my visit, there was a group tour of different visual arts departments. When we finally reached the fashion design department, I cried. I didn't want anybody to see me crying and was fighting back the tears but I still cried. It just broke my heart—but broke it in a good way, like: you can be free now. You can let go. I was still keeping so many different parts of myself in a shell. I had no doubts I belonged in that world and I couldn’t hide from it any longer!

And so, I allowed myself to believe and to dream that fashion design is what I want to do once again. It just kind of brought me back to if I knew then what I know now… I would have made a different choice—I'm sure everybody's had that thought. I would have definitely gone to a four-year college and studied something that meant a lot to me. I didn't know what to do with college when I came out of high school. I didn't know what to think of it. All I had heard was, get a good education; you'll get a good job. But I felt like I already had a pretty good job, why bother with that responsibility?

Eventually, I decided to look for student loans, and went to Art Institute of Atlanta instead. I did that for a year, while I also pursued an internship in New York at Rocawear, the clothing line owned by Jay-Z. Finally, I got a phone call from Roc Apparel Group in 2009. The lady said, “Tenille, you’re in Atlanta. Please tell me how are you going to get to New York for this internship?” And I told her, “Don’t worry about it. There are a lot of people who know how badly I want this. They’ll get me there.” I said, I’m going to transfer schools; get me a job; and find a place to live. I got on a plane to New York and didn’t look back. I’m still here, still trying. And now I’m a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

It's so surreal to think back on that stuff, to think back at what a privilege that was to have that sort of program come in and make that kind of impact on your life. And because they did it for me, I always feel like, I want to do that for somebody. There’s so many Tenilles in the world that want to know, how do I break this generational curse?

I can’t hold back what the organization blessed me with. And as long as I’m growing, that gift that I received is growing with me. I’m still working off what was invested in me. I’ve experienced the good in being diligent, persistent, and dedicated to a vision. I’ve seen what that looks like when you don’t quit. And it looks like me!

Being a Dreamer was a huge investment in my life. That experience and so many others have prepared me for a greater responsibility than accomplishing my own dreams. It’s taught me to be more disciplined and to always strive, never quit, and keep up the hard work of strengthening your character so that you’re ready to battle whatever adversity may come. And so that you can position yourself to help others in need. Now that I understand what’s been done for me, I’m better equipped to do my part. The same way my pastors talked about the generational curse, and how that curse is handed down, well there is also a gift somewhere in the madness. I’m part of a generation that received a gift. And to break the curse, you have to pass that gift on, from generation to generation. Like Mr. Bumbaugh, you have to be Persistent. And Like Tenille, you have to become very persistent. It’s not so crazy after all.