Speaking with Ingrid J Benjamin: A writer whose journey deserves to be heard
HELLO INGRID J BENJAMIN, WELCOME TO ABOUT INSIDER! WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO FINALLY WRITE YOUR MEMOIR?
I have been an educator for thirty plus years. During this time, I have been highly regarded and admired by many of my students, colleagues, parents and friends. Everyone saw me as being a hardworking, successful and award-winning science teacher and later a school and college counselor and associate professor. However, I carried a deep dark secret, that only a handful of people knew. I had to work hard from childhood while living in the ghetto with my grandmother. From here, I began to carve out a different life for myself, amidst bullying, no support from my parents, dealing with envious neighbors and family members, physical and sexual assaults, rejections and much more. There was a constant battle for survival. Through it all I did not complain. I sometimes expressed my frustrations to my grandmother, who comforted me with encouraging Guyanese proverbs. It was my hope that when I grew up, I would have the opportunity to leave this place and not have to suffer. I kept on planning, strategizing and working hard. I did not give up, even when I was confronted with difficult situations which seemed impossible to overcome. I kept pressing on until I found the solutions. I was determined not to give up on my dreams even as an adult.
I taught students from elementary school through college who came from different socio-economic backgrounds. Some students complained about everything, from hating their parents who would not let them have their way, to abuse and many of the atrocities I suffered. Some students were discouraged and felt hopeless because they lived in foster care. They also felt abandoned and blamed their parents for being absent and for not loving them. Some were afraid that they would not live past their eighteenth birthday because of their environment and the presence of guns and other weapons. They were ready to give up. When I tried encouraging them, their comments were, “You don’t know how it is.” “You have everything.” “You come from a good neighborhood.” In other words, my students were looking at the end product, but did not know my journey was similar to theirs or worse in many ways. I always felt that I would pen my life story to encourage youths to work hard and strive for a better life in spite of difficulties. I feel this is the right time to tell my story, and I am motivated to do so.
Triumphs of a Little Girl – a memoir, exposes my life as a child and brings to light the need for everyone to set goals and strive for something better, and leave this world better than they found it. The workbook has a two-fold purpose. One: The reader gets the opportunity to study and answer questions based on my childhood. By doing so, they may be motivated to do the same or better. Two: The workbook introduces the reader to set smart goals and make decisions while employing a set of life-skills to jumpstart their future lives.
WHAT WAS THE MOTIVATION BEHIND THE FORMAT YOU USED?
I put together a collection of short stories about incidents that occurred during my childhood, as well as my struggles for a different life in the memoir. I did this in an effort to motivate youths, and also to instill positivity regarding the path they could take to have a rewarding future. The workbook was carefully and sequentially crafted to help them make the best decisions for their future as they step into the drivers’ seat of their lives. It can be regarded as a Global Positioning System (GPS) which will take our youths to their destinations once they follow the directions. I am very excited for them, as they create their own triumphs. I know this system works, but only if you are motivated and intentional about preparing for your future.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST PASSAGE TO REVISIT AND START WRITING?
There were several low points during my childhood. It’s hard to revisit only one. So, I will mention two. These incidences give the reader a snippet of my parents’ reactions and inactions toward me. Had it not been for my grandmother’s exemplary support with the help of God, I don’t know what would become of me. These incidences were troubling and mindboggling even to this day.
Let me start with my father. I was playing under the stoop when I saw a tall dark-skinned gentleman walking up the stairs. He said nothing to me, I did the same. Afterall, this was a stranger I have never met. During this visit my grandmother introduced us. He just sat there and looked at me. I sat on the floor and stared at him in amazement. He had the same gap between his front teeth as me and the same dark complexation. The only thing he said to me was, “Write and let me know what you want,” and “Your grandmother will take good care of you.” That was the coldest meeting I have experienced. No hugs, no kisses, no smiles, no “How are you?” He left without saying goodbye. I did not feel that father-daughter connection, that I have witnessed between other kids and their fathers. I didn’t even get a chance to say “goodbye” or to call him “daddy,” I felt sad and unloved. I wrote to him as he requested. He sent me my one and only package ever. I have never heard from or saw him again. Meanwhile, he went out of his way to visit my godmother frequently, while passing my home on his way to and from work every week. On my fourteenth birthday, he stopped all child support payments through the court. This was the Law then, because I was a bastard child. I was confused and felt abandoned. Several years later he met my mother and told her, he heard that I was a whore on the streets. My mother knew that I had graduated from college and was a science teacher and she said nothing in my defense. Somehow, I knew had it been my grandmother, she would have strongly reprimanded him. I just wondered who are these people and why wouldn’t they expect the best from the child they have brought into this world? It is unbelievable that I am carrying the last name of a father I do not know and who never cared about my wellbeing.
I was about eleven years old when my mother showed up one day with her sewing machine to exchange it for my grandmother’s. These were hand machines and my mother said her machine hurt her chest when she sewed. So, Mama made the exchange. Several months later, my mother returned and demanded her sewing machine without returning my grandmother’s. I told her that she could not leave our home without a sewing machine and that I needed to use it. She left immediately. When she returned a few hours later, she was accompanied by a policeman. She told him that I had her sewing machine. He told me to give it to her. I was shocked and surprised and wondered what happened, as my mother and the policeman left with the sewing machine. I cried, and cried and cried. I loved to sew, now my sewing machine was gone. We could not afford to pay a seamstress, purchase clothes or another sewing machine. I couldn’t sew for my Uncle Andy anymore. I’ve had reason to question the condition of the human heart previously. Now, these two were added to the list.
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE THESE BOOKS TO HELP PEOPLE IN NEED RIGHT NOW?
I would like to help youths in foster care, group homes, and those who are incarcerated. A portion of my book sales would be donated to this cause. I would also accept donations and have podcasts and webinars to interact with youths to help them achieve their goals. I would like to ignite hope for a bright future as we work together. I also have an online course “Finding My Passion.” They will be invited to participate during the podcasts and webinars.
HOW DO YOU THINK YOUR BOOKS WILL BE VIEWED IN THE COMMUNITY YOU’RE FROM?
There might be mixed reactions. Those who know my story might be shocked to know of my achievements. My school mates, teachers and friends may be proud of my achievements because they knew I worked hard to become a success. They expected nothing less from me. My colleagues would be surprised, because I have never mentioned my background, only my country of birth. I know that my grandmother and Uncle Andy would have been proud of my achievements, but not the fact that I exposed the family’s “business” as they would say. However, I had to tell my story, because I believe that it could help someone.
HOW WOULD YOU ADVISE YOUR READERS TO REFLECT ON YOUR WORK?
I only ask my readers to accept my work with open hearts and minds, to examine the content and give it a try especially the workbook. Much of its contents are new and different and present new and challenging concepts which need to be studied patiently but methodically until you “get the hang of it” and “it will work if you work it.”
DO YOU FEEL A SENSE OF COMPLETENESS NOW THE BOOK IS COMPLETE?
Yes! definitely. This may be my best literary work so far. However, I cannot take all the credit. It was the presence of God that worked through me, and gave me the wisdom that empowered my light to shine brightly. Also, I give credit to my friends and book club members who helped me to strive.
WHAT DROVE YOU TO WRITE THE ACCOMPANYING WORKBOOK?
After writing the memoir, I thought of the possibility of my story being taken lightly. So, I wanted to ensure that the readers get a better experience while planning for their future success. Also, I wanted the message to be a learning experience. What better way to achieve my objectives, other than to have a workbook? I also felt led by God to use my years of experience to help others.
DO YOU ADVISE READERS WORK THROUGH THE WORKBOOK AT THE SAME TIME AS READING YOUR MEMOIR?
If this is possible, it would be the ideal thing to do. However, the workbook should be considered, since it’s the companion to the memoir, and it delves deeper into helping youths and even adults make decisions that may positively affect their lives.
WHICH PART OF THE WORKBOOK DO YOU THINK READERS WILL FIND MORE FULFILLING: ANSWERING QUESTIONS FROM THE MEMOIR, OR MAKING DECISIONS THAT WILL AFFECT THEIR FUTURE?
Answering questions from the memoir helps the readers to focus on someone else’s life. Here they live vicariously through the author. They learn that they can overcome difficult situations and achieve their goals through hard work and sacrifice. It also demonstrates that anyone can overcome struggles. Making decisions that may affect their future could be more fulfilling. After all, the decisions we make will affect our lives on a personal level. The workbook takes you on the journey of decision making while using tools that are new and different. Further, I believe everyone should strive to create their own triumphs, and offer the world someone who is valuable and special – YOU.
IF YOU COULD ADD ONE MESSAGE TO END WITH, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
The Triumphs of a Little Girl memoir and workbook are special tools that replace the guesswork in planning for the future. Sure, you can place beautiful and relevant pictures on a board to help you achieve your goals. However, you will need to know how to plan effectively, to make and achieve smart goals. It would help if you also had directions, motivation, meditation, the knowledge to build a network of resources, and much more. There are several steps to achieving your goals. This is where the workbook comes alive to rescue you. It’s akin to the Global Positioning System (GPS) to get you to your destination. It also shows the saving grace of God and how His grace and mercy are relevant in today’s society. When you have a relationship with God and allow Him to lead, you will have the perfect companion, who will lead you in the right direction. Deuteronomy 31:8 says, “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
Even though I had a broken childhood, God allowed me to go through the potter’s kiln, so I can use those experiences to help others. I took a stance and held on to it. I was bold and intentional, even when I did not know what I was doing. My goals took priority. I did not listen to the negative voices in my head and ear. I learned as an adult, that whenever I am going through trials and hardships, it was God preparing me for a higher purpose. Jeremiah 29:11 is a good reminder of God’s promises. ”For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.”
Even though you will be using the same system, your experiences, decisions, and successes may not be the same, because our individual passions may vary. Further, you are never too young or too old to plan for a successful future. My preparations began between nine-to-ten years old. I have defied the odds with God’s help, and so can you. You may evolve with time, and those plans and passions may change. It is called life. You can always return to Triumphs of a Little Girl Workbook and start over.
HOW OUR READERS CAN CONNECT WITH YOU.
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My website: www.ingridbenjamin.com
My website: https://www.theacsdevelopment.com