by William Goodwin, National Narrative Shifter, FII-Northern California
Growing up wasn’t easy for Vincent Garrett (Vince). The trauma he experienced as a child left many obstacles to overcome. As a young man, he was taught to repress painful memories and not express his feelings. The trauma from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse led him to become self-destructive, using drugs to cope. After hitting bottom in prison, he decided to change his life.
He got clean in 1999 and found a community of people who could support him through his healing process. After getting clean, Vince found healing in a 12 Step program. His sponsor helped him deal with those “patterns of self-destruction,” caused by his childhood trauma, empowering him to share his experience with others. He realized for the first time that “he wasn’t alone” and that his experiences weren’t unique.
In a series of unfortunate events, Vince found himself further challenged; when he lost his job and career as an electrician and could not find work during the Great Recession. Eventually he exhausted his unemployment benefits, and his wife left him in a matter of months. This could have been another story of heartbreak and missed opportunities, but instead it was at this point where Vince began applying the Spiritual Principles he learned in the 12 Steps. He found himself at a crossroads where he reapplied to the electricians union and applied to school. He was not accepted into the union but was accepted into college where, “out of desperation” he said “I enrolled in school. I haven’t looked back.”
Attending college changed his outlook on life. He became more aware of issues affecting his community like mass incarceration. As he begins to focus on community advocacy, a friend told him about FII. In February 2017 he joined an FII family group. He says “FII drew me in by the fact that it encouraged family and community involvement, both of which I was actively engaged in.”
Vince said “FII taught me how to create goals and stick to them. FII allowed me to be zealous, and paired with a group of people that depended on me. And I didn’t want to let them down.” As his goals expanded his opportunities did as well. As Activities Chair of his 12 Step group he used his FII group to help put on clean events.
UpTogether Funds helped him purchase books for his classes. He in turn used his Social Capital to “help FII Members prepare their resumes, and cover letters as they applied for jobs, he provided transportation, housing resources and helped organize community events.” Vince says his next projects are “to organize an event to help young Black men in Oakland. And “to organize a Housing Co-op to prevent the displacement of long standing Oakland residents due to gentrification.”
In May 2019, Vince graduated from the University of San Francisco with a Master’s Degree in Organization & Leadership, after receiving a BA degree at UC Berkeley in Sociology. FII Resources are there to be used in amazing ways. There are no flashing red lights along the way. Families set their own goals and parameters. As Vince says “I used my funds to help me through school, paying for books, supplies and research. I’ve used it to help with rent when it increased by $500. I already had grit and ambition. To be part of a movement to end poverty, by giving folks an opportunity, and the resources to pull ourselves up by the proverbial bootstrap, this was an amazing experience. And I am glad I took the time to participate with my cohorts. Because we are all busy people.”
This is a story of overcoming your past, and redirecting your life to make a brighter future. Sometimes all it takes is the First Step.
The National Narrative Shifters are FII families that want to take the lead on advocating for FII’s approach of direct investment in family initiative and fostering of self-determination and supportive relationships. National Narrative Shifters collect stories of the hard work and initiative happening in their communities. Using FII’s data to corroborate the stories and leveraging FII’s blog and media networks and channels, they are creating a compelling national story on what families actually need to achieve economic mobility. This story was written by one of our 2019 National Narrative Shifters.