Teacher Sarah cared about me so much, and she knew how important it was for me to get a good education, so she would always give me extra lessons. After a few extra lessons, teacher Sarah and I started to walk towards the gate. Me twirling around, trying to be the ballerina on the magazine. And all of a sudden, two rebels come towards the gate, and a little rebel lagging behind them. And around the corner, a truck full of them. They were laughing and cheering. They must have been drinking a lot or under some type of drug. And they saw us. They saw that teacher Sarah was pregnant.
They started betting on whether or not it was a girl or a boy. And so they decided to find out. They took their machetes out and cut her stomach. It was a baby girl. If it was a boy, maybe she would have lived because they would have taught him to become a rebel when he was older. But it was a girl, so they cut her arms and legs off in front of me, and I tried to go save her so I went underneath the gate. The little boy thought he should try to copy the older rebels. He took his machete out and cut my stomach.
Now that you’ve heard my story, the beginning of my life, do you think it’s a fairytale? But soon, my life would turn around. Soon, I would have positivity in my life. I would find out that I was going to be adopted by an American family. It took me a while to get to my adopted family. We had to walk, all the orphanages, all the orphan kids had to walk from Makeni, Sierra Leone, all the way to New Guinea, and from Guinea we took a plane to (sic) [Makeni].
I was very sick when I got off the plane, and just miserable, and you know, how could my life get any better? I was a devil’s child; of course nothing good could happen to me. And also I was miserable because I thought I would never see my best friend again. But then I saw her, the lady in the bright red shoes. With the bright white, white, white hair; I have never seen anything like it before. She was my new mamma. She reached out and said, “I’m your new mamma.” She grabbed my hand, and my best friend’s hand, and walked us away. I was getting adopted with my best friend.
We got to the hotel, and once my mum put her luggage down, I looked through everything, I looked through every nook and cranny trying to find my pointe shoes, my tiara, and my tutu, because isn’t that what always happens in a fairytale? But they weren’t there. I didn’t speak any English, so I thought about the only way I could show her was to show her the magazine. I took it out of my underwear, and I showed her, and she understood right away. She said: “You will dance.”
When I got to the U.S., I started taking ballet classes. My mum drove me every single day. Except before my first ballet class, I was so scared to show my spots for the kids to make fun of me. I begged my mamma to please buy me a leotard to hide all my spots. It was a long sleeved leotard that went all the way up to my neck. It was so hot in it she had to take it off right away. And I put on my pink leotards and tights.
I went to class once a week, twice a week, and then, eventually, by the time I was 10 years old, I was dancing five times a week. I worked as hard as I possibly could because I had to be this ballerina; it was the only way for me to be happy. But while I was working hard, I lost somebody. I lost my 24-year-old brother, Teddy. He was the person who made me be able to trust men again, to not be scared of black men who were shouting, to not be scared of men in general, to not be scared of my own father.
And again, this is what always happens when I care about people. They always die and leave me. I decided to push my family away because if they died and left me I don’t know what I could do. I didn’t want them to die because I cared about them. But my parents were able to convince me that even though the people I love may die, their love will always stay with me. Their love is a part of who I am today.
I worked hard for many, many years and then, finally, my hard work paid off. I got accepted into a professional ballet company. I had become the ballerina that I’ve always dreamed of. I couldn’t believe it. How could this happen to me? Again, I was the devil’s child. With all this hard work going on, I didn’t think that any dream like this could ever come true. I was very happy, finally. For once.
But the reason why I am here today, the reason why I am telling you my story is because I want to encourage young people to aspire to dream. I want people to understand that it is OK to be different, it is OK to stand out. I’m different. And I want you to understand to believe in yourself, to believe that you have talent even if you don’t think you do. No matter what circumstances you are under, no matter how poor, or how sad you are at any given moment, believe. And dare to dream. Dare to push boundaries. Dare to be different, dare to stand out, and all above. And last but not least, don’t be afraid of living and loving. And this is how I express myself. [Ballet dancing]