Today, at around 3PM, Syreeta Martin will walk across the stage at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, where she will accept her Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from Temple University. Tomorrow she will celebrate her 24th birthday, and the beginning of a new chapter! Life wasn't always this mapped out however. In the spirit of Mother's Day and in celebration of Black mothers everywhere, EBONY.com is proud to highlight the success story of a teen mom who beat the odds. (And who makes us all really proud.)
EBONY: Just 4 years ago, you weren’t so sure how or when this moment would happen. How does it feel to know that you’ve accomplished what you set out to?
SM: It feels good. I’m happy I can say that! I mean, I first got pregnant at 16 then at 20. I felt if I failed, my daughters were going to suffer as a result. So they were always my motivation.
EBONY: What was your biggest hurdle obtaining your degree while raising two little ones?
SM: Over the last four years being in college, one thing I always had to constantly question is was it worth it. I mean looking at the debt that I knew I was going to come out with and having the girls and the time that school and work required me to be away from them, I had to make a really a conscious decision to know that we would have to live a certain way. Pretty much, [we’d be] living in poverty until I got this degree.
EBONY: But the girls kept you going right?
SM: Definitely, I got pregnant at 16 with Arionna. I ended up graduating high school a year early and took a year off, worked, got accepted into Temple, came to Philly and when I came, it was with a 16-month old.
EBONY: Bring me to that raw moment when you found out you were pregnant. Take me through the emotions.
SM: I was living with my mom of course and she was at work. My best friend Kelly was [at my house]. I got the Clear Blue pregnancy test because they just tell you pregnant or not digitally. I went to take it and when I came out, I put it on a napkin. I had it on the island in the living room and as I walked back to the bathroom, I walked past it and I caught a glimpse and it said “pregnant” clear as day. I just kind of busted a 180 and just started running toward the front door screaming “No,no,no!”. I just wanted to get away from the result. I didn’t even want to see that reality.
I got pregnant at 16 with Arionna. I ended up graduating high school a year early and took a year off, worked, got accepted into Temple, came to Philly and when I came, it was with a 16-month old.
I ended up falling down in front of the door crying and my best friend at that time was standing by the test. She ran over and sat next to me and she was like, “it’s going to be okay”.
Eventually, I asked my sister if she would tell my mother because I couldn’t. She was like, “Okay, I’ll tell her," So I locked myself in my room that night and I put a chair up against the door, went to the other side of the room and sat in the corner and kneeled down. I was just sitting waiting for my mom to get home.
EBONY: What happened when she told your mother? What did your mother do?
SM: She walked in her room and she slammed the door and she didn’t come back out. I was sitting there for hours and I eventually just took the chair away from the door, unlocked it went to sleep. Soon, I felt somebody grab me up from behind and I was just like “Oh my God, she’s about to whip my ass!”
But instead, she asked, “Do you have a plan?” I said, “Yeah, I have a plan, I’m going to school.” She told me I had to go to school and go to college. From that point on, that’s what we’re working towards.
EBONY: Did you feel more like this actually happened to me or I let this happen?
SM: It was judgmental. Completely judgmental because I always excelled in academics; I always did well. My mom never had to worry about me. But it was a judgmental thing because my sister had gotten pregnant young and it was kind of like a generational curse in my family.
EBONY: How did you tell you daughter's father?
SM: I called him and I asked him where he was and he was at home and I was like I’m about to come around. He was like what’s wrong and I was like we need to talk in person. He was like “Uh, alright," Usually what that meant was that I was breaking up with him. [Laughs] We were off and on. I rode over there and I