Ashunti's Story

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Through beautiful, raw poetry scribbled on lined pages in a journal, Ashunti transcribes her life story. She is honest about her difficult upbringing and spends time in self-reflection. Now sixteen years old, her poetry represents the intricate narrative that she is writing for her present and her future. ​ “Growing up, I did not have anybody to talk to,” she laments. “I was a loner; I would stay in my room and not play with kids because I did not understand them.” With five siblings, all of whom are more than nine years older than her, it was simpler for Ashunti to fade into the background. Her father was and still is undergoing health problems, and she did not experience intimacy as a natural part of the household. ​ Anger developed into an integral part of her childhood. Ashunti mentions being “closed off,” “bottling up,” and “suppressing” the turmoil she was experiencing at home, at school, in friendship conflicts and in her own heart. She alludes to arguing with her sister and coming to blows with other girls in elementary school. Physical conflict was the only way she knew to lift the weight from her shoulders. ​ Through the help of mentors and teachers, Ashunti is learning to manage her emotions and embrace relational intimacy. She expends her emotions through healthy avenues such as high school volleyball team, dance team (which she founded with her best friend!), and poetry. After reading and appreciating the words of Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, and Tupac in high school, she was encouraged by her teacher to begin a poetry journal. “I was letting anger eat me, and I was trying to get the anger out of me,” she explains. “Poetry helped me understand myself better - how to understand my emotions and control them, and how not to suppress them.” Below is an excerpt from Ashunti’s poetry journal: Didn’t know who I was Or where I was going. Everything was falling apart. My dad’s life was on the line. My grades were slipping. Everything just stopped And turned into a dream. A heartbreak A near death experience Drama and rumors All at once. Yet I’m still standing. I’m unbreakable. I refuse to fold. God won’t put too much on my plate. He knows what I can handle. Apparently, I can handle Way more than I And everyone thought. Embracing the adage ‘it takes a village,’ Mercy Street has provided Ashunti with a number of mentors and role models to come along beside her on the journey from 4th grade to present day. Ashunti has become a mentee, summer Leadership Intensive intern, and Street Team student throughout her tenure at Mercy Street. She attributes much of her recent growth to these mentoring relationships, and speaks affectionately about the impact each mentor has had on her life. ​ About her current mentor, Cynthia, she says, “She taught me to be myself and not let my past mess up my future.” Ashunti is now unashamedly herself - “Why focus on my outside when I can morph my insides to be an even better person?” ​ From Kalia, once a Mercy Street student herself, Ashunti has learned the practice of fun. Kalia helps lead the high school discipleship group, or Street Team, of which Ashunti is a part. “For me, it was always just do your work or hang out with older kids. I did not know how to hang out with people my own age,” she expresses. “Kalia has taught me just to be goofy, to dance, to sing your heart out.” ​ Another influential person in Ashunti’s life today is Miriam, her Street Team leader and Mercy Street staff member. Miriam and Ashunti banter like sisters and love each other just as deeply. Ashunti says that it feels like they have known each other their whole lives, and Miriam echoes the similarities between the two. “I really enjoy that I can be transparent with her,” says Miriam. Ashunti conveys that Miriam has helped her learn to recognize her emotions instead of suppressing or distracting herself from them. ​ These days, Ashunti exudes the confidence of a young woman who stands on the identity of Christ. “Before Mercy Street was in my life, I thought God was a task,” she remembers. “Go to church, read the Bible, wear fancy dresses in order for God to love you.” Now she conveys: “Through Mercy Street and being around people who love God, actual believers, I have seen that He is there for us and loves us no matter what. I learned that I am accepted for who I am and not what other people want me to be.”