Embracing the Heart of a Champion by Bridget Murphy

On the path of life, we all encounter obstacles. Whether it’s a challenge we must overcome, or a rut in which we get stuck, there are things that hold us back from realizing our full potential. Champions are not made because of a lack of obstacles. Rather, they are defined by one’s response to challenges and the ability to learn and grow from negative experiences. At the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC), our girls had the opportunity to meet and talk with two champions who overcame obstacles similar to the ones our participants are currently facing.

Representatives from the Cabrini Green Legal Aid Visible Voices peer support group joined our Monday group a few weeks ago. After playing some games and ice breakers, we had some time for our guests to tell their stories. Both women shared why they were incarcerated and their journeys since release.

Maria spoke of the intense anger she felt in response to how she was treated growing up. She lived in the projects, had little parental support and constantly felt as if she and people who looked like her were being overlooked and forgotten. In prison, this feeling only intensified until she decided that she was going to channel that anger towards improving her life. She read and studied everything she could and took every class they offered. She used those same emotions that once got her in trouble to make her life and the lives of those around her better.

colette
Colette inspired our girls to make their own choices and have lasting change. Photo via University of Chicago.

Colette shared her story of multiple prison sentences and struggles with her family and neighborhood. She wanted to fight everyone and everything, and found solace in her block and the street life. This led her down a path from which she didn’t think she could escape. She found the strength to pull herself up when she learned to accept the things she couldn’t change. She said that she would never be able to change where she came from, or the choices that others in her life would make, but she could focus on her own choices and doing the right thing. This frame of mind allowed her to find peace and start making real and lasting changes in her life.

All of our Girls in the Game participants were moved by the stories the women shared. Some cried, and one girl shared how she felt scared and angry in her current situation. The teens were inspired by learning that prison is not the end of the road. Having the heart of a champion means knowing that where you are doesn’t have to be where you’re going. Persevering through life’s hardships and channeling your challenges to reach your goals is what makes strong women and champions.

During our programming at JTDC, we regularly talk about goals for the future, and though they have made mistakes, we have future business owners, doctors, lawyers and artists in our groups. Maria and Colette reminded the girls that their goals do not have to be abstract. They can do anything if they persevere and work hard. Their detainment is a bump in the road, not a destination, and because our girls have the hearts of champions, they will be able to transcend their current environment. The champions at the JTDC Girls in the Game program will let their strength and courage define their journeys rather than the nature of their obstacles.

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