Updated: Jul 9, 2020
| This is the 122nd story of Our Life Logs |
I was just another “All-American girl,” born to a hard-working single mom of North Philly in the glorious 90s. My weekends were spent racing through backstreets on my roller blades, attending church services, and putting on full-fledged Michael Jackson performances with my mom and big sister for the fully-mirrored-wall of our living room. These images I grew up with, the ones I will always remember: The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, The Sister Act, and Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory emphasized the importance of social responsibility and self-improvement. Most importantly, they made me conscience of choice. That I can choose how I am going to live my life.
Along with pop culture, my education played a huge role in my upbringing. My big sister’s unmatched work-ethic and reputation got me to the top of the waiting list for one of the nicest private schools in the country, the William Penn Charter School. However, it was my mom´s choice to keep me there. I am VERY grateful for this because we didn’t always have the tuition. However, my mom valued this exceptional opportunity over her own financial comfort. She did not have any more resources than the next single-parent, but she had this will to choose the life she wanted for us. And so, from a young age, my mom taught me how to live without saying a word.
The school I attended was founded by William Penn (hence the name) who led the United States in its earliest stages of development as a known advocate for democracy and religious freedom. You can’t get any more “American” than William Penn. The highly-touted private school taught me old Quaker values that have stuck with me until this day: peace, truth, reflection, and service, to name a few. While I knew I was different from the kids I attended school with, they didn’t see the difference at this age. I was embraced and loved by all because that is what we were taught to do.
You see, I could have had a much different life growing up in Philly. I could have struggled to stay out of trouble, but instead, I was competing to keep a hand bell solo for the upcoming Winter Concert instead. I mean, I could handle my little self around the neighborhood on the weekends—but facing this type of confrontation every day was the last thing I was prepared for. Making it through camp every summer was hard enough. I was teased not only for my light-skin and big nose, but also for speaking like the white kids. It sounds cliché, but it´s true. I barely learned a thing about sports at our city’s affordable “sports camps.” Instead, I learned how to avoid fights, how to politic, and play spades. I learned that if I wanted to stay out of trouble, that I would have to take a proactive role over my environment.
As I was approaching high school, we moved to Orlando, Florida for a fresh start. After four moves in three years, I was finally beginning to connect with my new hometown. Though my mom was the very best friend I could ever ask for, I wanted to keep some friends my age. I made her promise to keep us in one place for my high school career, and I’m so grateful that she did.
I flourished in my new community. In my extremely diverse high school, I learned the value of difference. I became open to many ways of thinking and living. So, I did every extracurricular, took every advanced class I could, befriended everyone, and I became empowered. Time and time again, I found myself contemplating while sitting on the steps of my apartment complex, waiting for that big yellow bus to hiss to a stop. I weighed the pros and cons of keeping my overflowing schedule… but I knew I had made my choice. I was learning, I was growing, and I willed myself to conquer.
In the summer of my senior year of high school, I signed up to be trained as a lifeguard—just like the lifeguard who saved me at a birthday party when I was seven years old. While this may seem like a small feat, it was a huge moment in my life. Me: a 5’4”, 120 lbs, 16-year-old, petite, black girl from Philadelphia, who was once rescued in about 5 feet of water—a lifeguard. At first, I could barely keep up, I felt out of place, and I struggled to pass the daily swim assignments. But eventually, I did it. I stood as tall and strong and neither my size nor my age affected my ability to command respect. That summer, I learned to be confident in myself and to appreciate authority and organization. I proved to myself that I can conquer mental trauma and take control of the rhetoric in my head.
Meanwhile, I found a church that I had fallen in love with. My faith always has kept me grounded and kept me balanced. I made my religion and faith PRIORITY. From my teenage years, my mom even let me explore and choose the church I wanted to attend while she attended a different church that she preferred. She gave me the courage to make the very decisions that she came to hate.
In college, I continued to live the “American Dream” on my very “American” university campus. I did not have a care in the world besides how I was going to spend my next paycheck and how far my tank of gas would get me. So, I committed myself to more than I could handle, but it wasn’t so easy this time. I struggled to balance my studies with 2 am duty rounds as a resident assistant and waking up for 6 am cross country practice. I had to face my limitations. I would shift focus to my studies and examination of faith.
One unexpected, friendly, casual, conversation about religion with a peer led to another. And another—until it became clear to me that this particular exchange of ideas came to do more than just cross my path. I read, and read, and researched, and read some more. This religion spoke too much to me to just give it a moment of my time. I had to give it the mediums of my ears, my brain, and my heart. In my senior year, at 21 years old, I had come to learn more about the world and myself than in all the other years of my life. It was my “American” university that led me to Islam.
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The fact that I never even had to worry about my civil rights shows that I had enjoyed the freedoms of America to its fullest. What could make me MORE American than practicing these freedoms, right? And I was living proof that my physical characteristics and personality traits would not define my life. I wanted to practice Islam. So, I did. It was the easiest and most difficult decision I have ever had to make. Easy because I knew what I wanted. But difficult because of the fears and misconceptions our society has of Islam, of course.
So then…when on earth did I become so “un-American?” Of all the people.
It wasn’t when I started practicing Islam. It wasn’t when I began wearing Hijab. It wasn’t when I was questioned by a group of people for taking an innocent picture of a building. It wasn’t when I showed up for work to be turned down for a job of which I was already hired. It wasn’t even when a stranger yelled “Taliban” at me. It wasn’t messages from ignorant strangers. It wasn’t any breaking headline from any media outlet…
It was when my own mom told me I wasn’t. When my mom told me I didn’t represent America. When my mother didn’t want me in her wedding. And then when I wasn’t even invited. It was when my own mother stopped answering my calls. And then my grandmother.
I have been in dangerous situations, and I have been in hopeless situations, but this was the lowest point in my life by far. She made me choose between what I wanted and my relationship with her. I lost my mom and my best friend at the same time.
I didn’t understand. Choosing to practice Islam was so natural. It embodied everything I was taught growing up; to choose peace, responsibility, truth, tolerance, equality, organization, faith, education, contemplation, and the concept of will. Practicing Islam was the logical next step in my journey. “You can do anything you want,” “You have so many options,” “You don’t have to limit yourself,” Mom said. But I could not understand. Why does that have to be the only reality of freedom? What is the point of having so many options if I can’t choose any of them!? She made me believe I had to choose: to be American or to accept being an outcast.
I had to consider what “being American” meant for the first time in my life because, up until this point, I didn’t know I had any other option. It’s all I had ever known. I mean, I faithfully stood and sang my National Anthem with pride. I could name all 50 states in order. I received national recognition from my youth Christian organization and all kinds of athletic awards for representing my school. I recruited for my school´s football team… what’s more American than football? I didn’t speak any other languages. I didn’t even own a Passport! Since 16-years-old, I worked hard and paid for everything myself. I had three student jobs at the time. I had student loans! I mean, come on…there was no one more American than me!
So, I practiced my new faith in fear for a whole year of precious life. And for a year, I struggled with my relationship with my mom. I wanted her to accept my decision, but she was afraid to even speak about religion with me. She walked out of or hung up on every conversation.
At 21 years old, I wanted to get married to a Muslim, of course. And my mom did not support. I waited for her to come around, but she never did. I was hurt by the lack of support, all the things that were said, and for what I felt was a lack of respect for my maturity and patience with my mom being that I was an adult after all, living on my own. I was tired of being patient and tired of being told I was too young to know what I wanted. So, when I was ready to get married, I did. I got married, in private, with no family attending my small and super simple ceremony. Out of respect for my mom, I didn’t tell anyone either. I didn’t think twice about it, but as you can imagine, my family was hurt. So, as a new college grad, I wasn’t welcome home. My family asked for my car back. I had no new job yet, and now no transportation.
Life gave me an opportunity to start my new life with my new husband in Troy, Alabama: a new and much more conservative town than the ones in which I grew up. I remember sitting on my bed, staring out the window, just listening to the words of my mother. She told me to hide my beliefs. She told me I couldn’t be successful as a Muslim in America. But with little options, little resources, and the most supportive new life partner, I had no choice, but to face my fears once again.
I was lucky to find that living in my new extremely conservative town was much easier than I imagined. I was respected. I was welcomed. I’m sure it helped that I was working on a college campus, but not once did I encounter any of the issues my mom and I were waiting for. So, I let my fears go and let myself fall in love with my religion all over again.
I wish I could tell you that I am now a CEO, have written a best-selling book, or have touched this number of lives. For now, I can tell you that I am living a life I am proud of. I think that I am making a positive impact on those around me. I live for more than myself. I am a mother and wife now. I own very few things and still have college debt. Yet, I regret VERY few decisions. Most importantly, I am happy. I live in peace. I am not compromising my values. I know many people who have much more stable and physically appealing lives but aren’t able to say the same. So, I will continue to practice my religion and all of my civil rights. This is my biggest accomplishment; choosing to keep living a positively impacting and socially responsible life. I have come to find that this is the only real requirement for being an American.
This is the story of Winter Davenport
Winter Davenport grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she learned about the core values of the United States. From her mother, schooling, surroundings, and own experiences, she embraced the power of choice. However, when she chose to practice Islam, many of her family members—including her mother—told her she was destined to live life as an outcast.
Winter is a mom and wife to a nomadic family that lives abroad most of the time. While she was born in the US city of Philadelphia, Winter has experienced life in multiple cities and countries. Her life and travel experiences have done two things for her. First, she studied all religions. She chose and learned to practice the religion of Islam. She came to find that her personal decisions would have a greater impact on her environment than she expected. Second, life on-the-go has developed a need for her to establish longer lasting and more meaningful relationships and contributions in this life. So, she has begun sharing her unique journey by writing. Winter writes from her AirBnb while she stays at home with her daughter; traveling to support her husband’s professional athletic career. She has a BS in Exercise Science and is a former collegiate athlete. She is pursuing a career as a Health and Fitness Coach and working on opening an online store of modest athletic/¨athleisure¨ clothing.
This story first touched our hearts on July 16, 2018.
| Writer: Winter Davenport | Editor: Colleen Walker |