My name is Chanel Thomas. I prefer to be called Star. I was raised and still live in Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn, New York. My neighborhood has its beauty but also its ugliness. People are vibrant and social. However, my neighborhood is also infested with drugs and crime.
Currently, I live with my Grandpa. He is not my blood relative, but love goes a long way. I have 5 siblings, 3 brothers and 2 sisters. I am a middle child. I have a strong relationship with my oldest sister. She helped raise me. She is a genuine and loyal person and has always been there for me. She has been one of my most important role models. My relationship with my older brother could be better but the love is still real. I love my younger siblings unconditionally and try to be a good role model for them.
My relationship with my mother has always been very strong and consequently, intense. She is my best friend and confidant. Since we are so similar, we also clash, but overall I am blessed to have her strong support. My relationship with my father has been estranged for many years and as an adult he made very little attempt to build a relationship with me. All relationships require respect and understanding. However, he had very conditional love and saw me as someone who did not meet his “standards”.
I knew my relationship with my father would never be the same after he kicked-out my sister and I out of his house. I was only 22 years old. I worked the over-night shift at Aeropostale. Once I was living in a homeless shelter, I had to choose between my bed and working the overnight shift. Eventually I lost my job and life became very difficult. The need for quick cash intensified, as I was very eager to find my own apartment. This led me more towards the streets.
I started a check-fraud business. It was fast cash and I was good at it. I felt like I wasn’t hurting anyone since the banks were so rich. I also started selling crack-cocaine since the shelters were filled with “customers”. I seized any moneymaking opportunity that I could find in hopes of getting out of the shelter system. The money was coming so fast I started to get greedy and sloppy. On a cold February day in 2013, I got caught. I got one-week jail time and 5 years probation. That one-week was one of the worst weeks ever in my life. I hated every aspect of jail. I finally understood the saying, “when you do the crime, you will do the time”.
I felt alone and dirty when I got locked-up. My family was disappointed and concerned about me. The prison felt distant. I was nowhere near the people I loved. The treatment by Correction Officers was appalling. Inmates are treated very poorly. People who are withdrawing from drug addiction could be in the same cell with you, which is very scary. You cannot go to sleep from worry about your physical safety. Losing all control and power over basic life choices was overwhelming. The prison system is very unjust. It dehumanizes people. It is racist. It is sexist. Correction Officers would pick on certain women if they saw they were not scared of them.
My Probation Officer referred me to a program called ARCHES. I knew the Director because we had mutual friends incarcerated from the neighborhood. I liked the ARCHES mentors immediately. I was the oldest person in the program so I was given special treatment but I was also given more responsibility. I felt like I had to be a role model for the younger girls in the program. The staff recognized my leadership and growth and recommended me for the 4As program to continue building my mentoring skills. They recommended me for a job at an after-school program. I realized I love working with young people.
Entering the 4As program accelerated my growth. When I first met with the 4As Manager, Ferraud Frances, I immediately felt connected to him and the program. I was excited to become a member of a program that was more like having an extended family and intentionally designed to connect young people to their community. I never thought that in 8 months I would become the 4As Coordinator. When I was growing up I wish I had a program like this to help guide me in the right path. 4As taught me, in order to be great, you have to always focus on the great within yourself and others. I learned not to judge others and to always remember we’re all the same, just cut from a different cloth.
My personal transformation is difficult at times but I’m convinced that what doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger. I’m blessed that my feet can feel concrete. I pray everyday and wish for things to get better. I know in due time they will. I try not to get stressed and tell myself that there are people doing worse than me but they still enjoy life every day with a smile on their face and in their heart.
Being a mentor is a big step in life. Not only are you trying to guide someone else’s life to stay in the right path but you are also making sure that you stay on the right path as well. I love being a mentor because I want to give back to my peers. Before I leave this earth I want people to remember me as “Star”, one who was always there for others through good and bad times. I just want to love others unconditionally and know that they feel it.
Ultimately, one of my passions in life is to one day be an outstanding wife and mother. I really don’t know what God has planned for me because I’m so multitalented but whatever it is, I will be great at it. I want to be a homeowner and live life with no regrets and take care of my mom like she’s always taken care of me.