Essay of the Week: “A Fighting Chance”

By D’Aundre Martin

My 17-year-old mother, pregnant with me, is struck by a taxicab. After traveling several feet in the air, her impact with the pavement launches my dramatic entrance into the world. This episode becomes emblematic of my future facing and conquering adversity. Weighing four pounds, four ounces, I spend the first first ten days of my life in a neonatal ICU.

My parents split up when I was three and my mother became a strong role model as I watched her go through high school, undergrad, and law school. But I wasn’t happy when Mom introduced me to her boyfriend of six months when I was six. He invited us to the US Open.

It’s 80 degrees outside and the real Tiger Woods is at the tee. I’m waiting for my mom to say bye to this wannabe Tiger Woods who has been nagging me all day: “Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? If you’re tired I have no problem carrying you on my shoulders.” My dad lives what seems millions of miles away in Atlanta, but I didn’t see room for a new dad in my life. My resistance is strong.

After months of holding up my shield, I decided that for the sanity of my mom, it would be best if I gave Mark Getachew a chance. Years later, golf became the bridge to our relationship. I was in 5th grade and he took me out to play; I was awful. We let people pass us on every hole, but Mark was patient with me all the way through. After sinking the eighteenth putt, I couldn’t help but wish he was my real father.

A year later, I am a Junior Groomsman in Mark and Mom’s wedding and we move from the Bronx to the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Until then I lived in a neighborhood surrounded by people of my race. Suddenly, I am in an affluent, yet less diverse neighborhood, trying to fit in.

Since my biological father was in Atlanta, there were only two adult male role models in my life in New York. They were polar opposites. There was Mark, a partner at a Wall Street law firm, and my cousin, Michael, 20, who is unemployed and still lives with my grandma. How did  two people end up so differently? I saw work ethic, integrity, and education as the answers.

My cousin Michael skipped many days of high school, and eventually dropped out. No one ever had to convince me to try in school since I grew up sitting next to my mom studying through undergrad and law school. I never understood why Michael didn’t value education, until I entered high school and experienced how Michael might have felt. After years of having my hard work in school pay off, I could now spend a weekend studying for a five question quiz and not get one question correct. My new teachers became convinced I would not succeed. They suggested I consider other schools.

During those first horrendous months of high school, I felt Michael’s urge to resign. Why should I push myself, if I’m only pushing myself into more failure? The models of Mark and Mom inspired me to prove myself to people who thought I had nothing to prove. I studied and worked harder. Even if it took me an hour to figure out one algebraic equation, I worked on it until I succeeded. By Junior year, my grades were strong, I was taking college courses outside of school, and was engaged in internships and clubs.

Through high school, I have been inspired by the models of Mom and Mark. Mom fought for our lives in the Emergency Room. Mark fought for his part in my family. I have fought when confronting adversity and will be ready to fight many more battles ahead.

D’Aundre Martin, a 2014 graduate of The Beacon School, graduated from Indiana University a week ago