The Moment That Changed My Life
By Aki Henderson | Photo by Jenniffer Merida
“Is it hard working in a predominately male industry?” Or “How is it working for your Dad?” These are the questions most people ask me when I introduce myself. I would be lying if I said it is a piece of cake. Working around men is challenging. Demanding respect and getting them to listen to you as an equal sometimes seems impossible. Proving to people that you are capable of doing the job is difficult when your dad owns the place and co-workers perceive that everything was handed to you. Having to prove yourself carries a heavy burden at times, but I take it with stride. My strength was tested long before I started working for my dad in the automobile industry. I made a life changing decision at the age of 15. Some thought it was a mistake, but it was the best decision I ever made. Everyone has a story, here is mine.
My sophomore year at AC Reynolds High School in Ashelle, NC I was an executive officer in student council, and a member of the National Honor Society. My teachers loved me, and I got along great with all my classmates. I went to a school where less than 10% of the student body was African American, and I refused to be stereotyped or known as anything less than model student. Until one day, the smell of food began to make me nauseous. I didn’t think anything of it, until every morning, this same feeling came over me. I got a hold of a pregnancy test thinking to myself. “I can’t be pregnant, people look up to me.” My heart sank as I gazed at the inevitable result “Oh God, I’m pregnant”.
The next day, I shared the results with my boyfriend. His chin dropped, tears welled up in my eyes. There was only one option in our minds. I was going to have an abortion. No one could ever find out that I was pregnant. His uncle agreed to give us the money, and we were going to get it done and move on…until I told my big sister, who opened her big mouth and told my mom.
My mom devastated with the news, looked right at me and said “How could you do this Aki, I was so proud of you. You know what your sister and I have both been through, how could you?” My mom and sister both had their first child at 16. Raised in a single family home all my life wasn’t easy at all. So my mom couldn’t understand how I could let this happen to me. She then shared the news with my dad.
My mom, overwhelmed, asked my dad to come get me. Fifteen, pregnant, and leaving my boyfriend and all my childhood friends behind, I moved to Ohio to live with my dad.
On the long drive to Ohio, my dad looked at me and said, “If you still decide to have an abortion, that’s fine, I will pay for it, but before you do, I need you to talk to someone first so that you can make an informed decision.” I had no choice but to go along with it, I didn’t have the money to pay for the abortion myself.
My dad took me to a counselor who talked to me about adoption, keeping the baby, or abortion. After speaking with her, I realized that I wasn’t pregnant with a problem, but with a baby. Wow, a baby! All of the sudden it became so real to me. I have a baby inside of me, and I want to keep it. I didn’t know anything else at that moment in time, but I wanted my baby.
My mom finally calmed down, and three months later she wanted me back home. Happy to be back with my friends, family and boyfriend, life started looking better…except for the one embarrassing fact that, I was 15 and pregnant. Holding my head up high in a school where I was once a model student was very hard as my belly grew. I quickly got over the shame, and I worked hard at keeping my grades up and staying focused on preparing for my new child. One teacher asked me “How are you going to go to college with a baby?” I went home crying to my mom. How dare my teacher ask me that? My mom looked me right in the eyes and said, “Aki, it’s not going to be easy, but you will go to college. Just because things are hard, doesn’t make them impossible.” The very next day, my mom had a few words with that teacher, and immediately withdrew me from her class.
One month before my baby was due, my best friend and my mom planned a baby shower. All my friends from school came. I couldn’t believe it. I thought they would be ashamed of me, or not support me, boy I was wrong. They were there, and surprisingly enough, their parents brought them there, and I had so many gifts, clothes, diapers, etc. I didn’t have to go shopping for a year!
April 26, 1993 I gave birth to my first born son, Rodregous Deontraz Stevens II. He was 9 lbs, 12 oz, and 22 inches long. He was so big he was the baby of the week. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life. He inspired me to become the student body president, homecoming queen, prom queen, and graduate with a 3.6 GPA. I received an academic scholarship and graduated from what was then the largest university in the country, The Ohio State University. Would you believe it if I told you I did all this while working part-time? My baby is now 18, in college with a football scholarship. What I thought at one time was a problem, is one of my biggest blessings.
Against all odds, when we as women are tested, we can tap into our inner strength and achieve what some may think is impossible. I found that out at a very young age.
Every day I come to work challenged by working with mostly men, and for my dad. How is it you ask? I would be lying to you if I said it was a piece of cake…But after all that I have been through, it is a walk in the park.