When I looked out over my 6th-grade class, I was reminded of the journey that brought me to where I am today. Twenty-eight years ago, I walked into the recruitment office in Inglewood, California and joined the United States Army. I was at a turning point in my life. I had made some bad decisions and wanted to redeem myself with my parents.
I was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey for boot camp. Women were assigned to male drill sergeants, who exhibited no sensitivity toward women recruits. My training was strenuous, but because my mother had raised me to survive, I withstood the abusive language and behavior. Living with my adopted godmother had further prepared me. If she wasn’t cussing at us, we were alarmed and thought she wasn’t feeling well. When I jumped off the truck at boot camp and heard the drill sergeant cuss, I laughed. It felt just like home.
Being a young, Black American female in a male-dominated society presented continual challenges. I dealt with verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. As a soldier, I excelled at my job, yet I had to fight for opportunities to get the necessary training to advance my career. Through these challenges, I developed a deeper relationship with God. Without Him, I would not have made it through.
At one point, I reenlisted and requested to be stationed in Germany. After spending two weeks there, I found out I was pregnant and requested to be chaptered out. After four years in the U. S. Army, I left Germany with a sense of pride, determined to be the best mom possible. A decent job allowed me to care for my son while obtaining my Master’s in Curriculum Instruction and a Multiple Subject Teacher Credential. In 2017, I completed my Administration Credential and Single Subject English Authorization with a goal to be a Vice Principal within the Sacramento school district.
When I moved to Sacramento, California it was to be closer to my college-aged son, not knowing at the time, God’s plan to bring me closer to him as he was later diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer. It was a time given to me as a gift, as my son battled and eventually transitioned to be with God.
When I reflect back over my military days and the journey I’ve endured, it is the catalyst that has brought me to where I am now. A mother who has experienced the loss of her eldest child, a leader who empowers today’s youth, and a woman who takes pride in the strength to move forward and share her story to help others.
The journey and the experiences helped mold me into the person I am today — a proud Woman Veteran of the United States Army.
The sounds of the busy coffee shop were in sharp contrast to the soft voice of U.S. Army Veteran, Yvonne “Alex” Alexander. She shared her passion for education and her love of working with young minds. “They energize me,” she stated. Alex chose her classroom for her portrait session with walls covered in projects, lessons, and images of anchors. The anchor is a personal symbol of hope that keeps Alex grounded in the reality of living with a serious health issue her son is facing. “Isaiah has a rare form of kidney cancer. He wants to deal with his health issues his way, which means living his life fully one day at a time without fear. I thought I knew the meaning of faith until I witnessed my son’s unwavering belief in the power of God and transformation. He amazes me every day.”
The day of her portrait, Alex wrote the message seen behind her. In the foreground, her military dog tags, a reminder of her years of service can be seen laid over the cherished piece of coral. Bright blue skates worn for pursuing her favorite pastime represent the anticipation of future adventures. A copy of The Sacramento State Hornet, featuring a story of Isaiah’s battle with cancer is seen in the foreground. Understanding the significance of the portrait session we invited Isaiah to be there in support of his mother. The vision of mother and son conversing in hushed tones, the love, and respect revealed on their faces is a memory we’ll never forget.
Photo by James R. Morrison Photography