Three stories of overcoming challenging barriers to success

April 10, 2012

Against a backdrop of a banner that read “Overcoming Challenging Barriers to Success,” three women shared their stories of personal triumph with about 50 young men and women at Multnomah County’s Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention Home.

The April 6 event in the gym is part of the cultural diversity programming that’s regularly scheduled for the young men and women in detention at the home.

“We hope that you will hear something today that will be meaningful to you, maybe even inspire you,” said Craig Bachman, a senior manager in the Juvenile Services Division.

The first woman to address the gathering was Cylvia Hayes, Oregon’s First Lady. She told the group about growing up poor and deciding to leave home by age 16, lacking any direction in life and partying too hard.

“I was on a path to wind up in a facility just like this one,” Hayes said.

She credited her turnaround to getting an education, developing a work ethic and having a lot of people step up to help her. Ultimately, she told the young men and women, each of the people in the audience has the capacity to change things for themselves.

"You are the person most responsible for your own life,” Hayes said. “You do not have to be held back by the things you have done or by the things that have been done to you.”

Hayes was followed by Denaudia West, an intern at the county Department of Community Justice and a senior at Warner Pacific College who hopes to be a probation officer.

West talked about a troubled childhood that in her case sent her through foster homes and group homes. She also recounted personal suffering that included her father being wounded in a shooting and a brother who was killed. And she discussed making poor choices in developing relationships with gang members.

“These unhealthy relationships only lead to disaster,” she said.

Asked by one young man in detention what made her want to change her life, West said once she had her now 8-year-old daughter, she knew something had to change.

“I just knew there was a better life I could have," she told the group.

“It’s not the end of the world where you are right now. You can’t change your past, but you can change your future.”

The final speaker was Rakiya Johnson, a former Miss Oregon Outstanding Teen and a senior at St. Mary’s Academy.

County Commissioner Judy Shiprack attended the April 6 event and said afterward that she was inspired by the speakers' personal stories -- and hopeful that the young men and women could learn from the speakers' successes.

"Overcoming barriers to success is always a challenge,” Shiprack said. “And that's why I was so pleased that the Department of Community Justice reached out to bring in these three impressive women to give these young people in detention some sense of hope that they can change their lives.”