Families & Community
6:00 am
Wed June 26, 2013

Essay: A former teen mom defies expectations

The latest Kids Count data show that roughly 11,000 teens gave birth in Michigan in 2010. Statistically speaking, teen parents are more likely to drop out of high school, and their children are more likely to wind up in prison. But it doesn’t have to be like that. For our State of Opportunity project, a former teen mom named Jacquise Purifoy tells us how she was able to defy expectations.

Here's her essay:

Do you remember your first time? I do. I was 13, and I got pregnant the first time I had sex. I was too afraid to tell my mother, four brothers, and even my daughter’s father out of fear of what would happen. That meant no prenatal medicine, no routine doctor’s visits. The night before I gave birth, I went to basketball practice.

On April 8, 1996, my daughter Jasmine was born while I was still in eighth grade at Joy Middle School in Detroit. In the hospital, my mother, who worked as a bus driver for 30 years, made me promise I would graduate from high school and then college. She told me people would expect me to fail, to keep popping out more babies. So I made up my mind then and there to be more than a statistic. My mother and I shook hands on it in the hospital room.

See, my father died when I was three years old, so my mother raised me as a single mom who was hell bent on resilience, determination, and self-reliance. She always pushed me to go further and to expect the best. When it came to school the rule in our house was you didn’t have to like a particular subject but you better come home with an A. The drive my mother instilled in me only got stronger after I had Jasmine. I was determined to show the world that my motivation to succeed was heightened because now I had to live as if my daughter’s life depended on it—because it did.

"In the hospital, my mother, who worked as a bus driver for 30 years, made me promise I would graduate from high school and then college. She told me people would expect me to fail, to keep popping out more babies. So I made up my mind then and there to be more than a statistic." - Jacquise Purifoy

Even though Jasmine was born with a rare heart condition, coronary fistula, I remained on the Honor Roll for all four years in high school. She had open-heart surgery during finals week when I was in the 10th grade, yet I was still inducted into the National Honor Society that year. I had a part-time job on top of parenting and was the captain of the basketball and softball teams. I graduated high school as the Salutatorian of my class. You can bet that was a new first—for me and my high school.

But all that was a cinch compared to how challenging it would be to continue to raise Jasmine when I went to college at the University of Michigan. I was the only student in my dorm with a kid, working to balance a full time schedule while acclimating to college life. In English, there were 31 books on the syllabus; most of them review for my fellow classmates. Not me—they were all more firsts. I literally had to stay up all night to finish this class’ readings, while also making sure that my daughter’s needs were taken care of.

I graduated in four years with a double major in English and American Culture. My daughter’s first time in the Big House was for commencement. She watched me get my degree—the first one in my family to finish college—and saw the culmination of all the tears, temporary setbacks, and successes.

Today, I’m an attorney; a far cry from the scared, pregnant 8th grader I once was.

U of M challenged me to be comfortable in my own skin, to be proud that I was from Detroit, to accept I was a single mother, to not be afraid of hard work. Today, I celebrate not just firsts, but seconds. In the fall of 2014, Jasmine will begin her college experience—hopefully at U-M, but if not, then at Spelman College, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, or Princeton University, where she’ll continue to work to be resilient, hardworking, and compassionate about serving others first.

My journey started out with firsts. With bucking the trend and not becoming just another statistic. And today, my success is generational.

A version of this essay first appeared in the University of Michigan's LSA Magazine.

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