The launch of EverythingShaquana.com, just 5 months ago, in many ways feels like it was just yesterday and in many ways, feels like 5 lifetimes ago. It has been what I will personally singlehandedly call my greatest and most profound achievement. And yes, it is not only a, but MY greatest achievement.
And whether you know it or not, I do have a lot of amazing achievements from my short lifetime here on earth. In many ways, I am possibly more achieved than most adults, at any age, in my current lifetime. And I suppose as I reflect now, I do most definitely mean much more than on paper. I have come, saw and conquered ten times over.
Earlier this year when I was packing up my things to head west, I came across my proclamation, received from the New York State Assembly by Speaker Sheldon Silver himself. I started crying. As I read it, in which I realized I’d never done in its entirety prior to, I sat in awe at the words it spoke to my existence. I wish I had with me right now, so I could quote some lines (though it is possible some of it is quoted in the NY Daily News article, in which you can do the researching for, as I’m just too lazy, sorry).
In any regard, as I read each line, slowly and for possibly the first time, appreciatively, I began to, for the realist time in all my life, take great pride in all of the work and love I’d given to my community and world. I had never put it all in perspective together.
Every job. Every internship. Every volunteer experience. Every side gig. Every hangout session. Every class. Every training. Every test. Every score. Every award. Every graduation.
Every tear. Every heartache. Every abuse. Every pain. Every attack. Every broken moment. Every bit of self-hatred. Every ounce of sorrow. Every drop of self-doubt.
And each and every point of perseverance, pushing through despite and never dropping out until I was forced out.
It all came together at once and suddenly it made sense. I had done it all for a reason. A much larger reason than I’d ever conceived. It wasn’t just chance, opportunity and a little determination. It was a special concoction being paired, mixed and developed all along to create something really amazing. Remarkable even. And this proclamation was my penance of that truth.
It takes decades, literally decades, of hard work and commitment to the community, for organizations and businesses in New York to be honored with a proclamation. And only the best have them. Seriously. Henry Street Settlement. The Protestant Welfare Agencies. The Mayor’s Office. And Shaquana Gardner. At just 19 years, there was someone, many people in fact, that saw my heart and committment to the, my, people.
And it’s written in stone. Archived. Done. Achieved.
Up until EverythingShaquana, my proclamation and my college graduation were the two top achievements of my life. It was beyond hell and back to achieve a graduation from Syracuse University, being the essence of a true poor Black American girl from the projects of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
For every intangible thing I had in excess of my college peers, be it intelligence, drive, ambition, creativity, mental agility, determination and unapologetic relentlessness, I lacked materially. I lacked money, legacy, familial stability, any formal social status, national identity (being from America doesn’t count in the Black community) and access.
My mom had no bank account, let alone savings. I had no access to any sort of credit. And no long-term or fundamental formal support from anyone in my family. Those that wanted to help often couldn’t and those who could, never would.
So, in more ways than one, I came from everything and yet, still so, I came from nothing. From the cracked concrete of New York. Raised by the Lower East Side. From the crack pipes and needles that lined the streets in my youth, to the gentrified modern landscapes that own the streets of my current day.
The Lower East Side sponsored all of my most significant early life experiences. Every school I attended, until 11th grade. Every doctor I ever saw until college. Every mentor and role model. My first job. My first crushes and kisses. My first boyfriends and first love. My first heartbreaks and first mistakes. My first disappointments and first dream killers. My first moments of hope and perspective. My first decisions to be something more, something better, something amazing!
I decided I was going into politics because I decided/ realized I had to be City Council Member of the Lower East Side to make it better for my people. I met Margarita Lopez when I was in the tenth grade and I saw (back then at least), a strong Latina woman working hard and dedicatedly to alleviate insufficient living and economic opportunities in our community, very uniquely in a position of more power than any non entertainer. And I was inspired. My tomorrow was born.
For the first time in my life, I felt more than a sense of responsibility to do something for my people, but also a clear understanding of a tangible and powerful way to act on that responsibility. A way that possessed a role that was now translatable, as someone who looked and once lived like me, stood in my face in that same role. Even in the tenth grade, I knew Latinos and Blacks, particularly in the Lower East Side, were in the same boat on paper and in person, whether they saw it or not (though it was still unbeknownst to me that we had in fact, once before, knew and lived in unison).
Anyway, my trail back in time with you is purposed on focusing, not on the past five months, though significant in my life, but instead on the past 25 years of my life. The steps, hills and mountains that led to where I stand now. That layered the cake that baked my genius. The engineer of the wires operating my vision. Because this in fact, so much more than the past 5 months, has developed the thing in which you see before your eyes every time you read my words.
It developed the story you watch unfold every time you click on a link or type in the words to see and experience my EverythingShaquana.com. A story that came from long ago and yet, not so long ago. From a not so far away place, in a not so unknown place. But within an unknown and yet, very real and frequent reality of the most known place. New York. This is the recipe to my perfect storm.
So, in honor of my struggle, my sacrifice, my strength and success in conceiving, creating, popularizing and propelling my greatest unknown dream and most ambitious achievement yet, hats off to 5 months going stronger!
Thank you for visiting. Thank you for sharing in the experience, whether just for one day or for everyday, faithfully. Thank you for adding to this journey. For bearing witness to this path building. And thank you for believing. In my dream. My vision. My truth. My knowing. My love. My being. My existence. And my life. Thank you.
As always, I love you all and I always will.