There is not a lot of good news coming out of Detroit these days. The city is wrestling with bankruptcy, unemployment remains high, morale is low, and there is a growing uncertainty about the city's future.
There is, however, one person who is walking testimony that hope and tenacity trump adversity no matter how far down the scale you, or a city, have fallen. That person is Rachel Dawn, author of Taking Back The Pen: Resiliency Amidst Life's Predestinated Storyline.
A few weeks back, I happened to meet her while seated at the bar of the Westin Book Cadillac hotel in downtown Detroit. I was rummaging through some emails on my BlackBerry when she commented, "Why so serious?"
At first her lighthearted comment struck me as peculiar. If you look outside the window of the bar, you can see the boarded up buildings across the street. Given the solemn mood in the city, I thought to myself, "She must be from out of town."
But when I asked her where she lived, she happily proclaimed, "I'm from Detroit, born and raised." If that comment surprised me, her response to my next question -- "What do you do for a living?" -- astonished me.
"I'm an author. I wrote an autobiography. I was born to a drug-addicted prostitute and was homeless for most of my life. The book is about overcoming life's obstacles."
There are a few times in life when you are truly humbled. For me, this was one of those moments.
Taking Back The Pen is an incredible story about Rachel's tenacity to overcome adversity. What most people would call Hell, she called home for most of her life.
Her biological mother was a heroin addict and prostitute. Her biological father was a member of a biker gang. She was separated from both parents at age four. Her foster parents repeatedly abused her, physically and emotionally.
With each passing chapter, her hardships grow worse. Rachel's biological brother, Brian, the only person she trusted in life, was shot and killed in a carjacking. She almost died in a bicycle accident that severely traumatized her brain. For most of her adolescence, she lived on the streets, in a van. And her marriage, the only bright spot in her life, ended in divorce.
Many people have hardships, but what makes this book so inspiring is Rachel's attitude. Her comment to me, "Why so serious?" speaks volumes about her positive outlook on life. As a 24-year old, she courageously chooses to embrace her past and turn her obstacles into opportunities and her adversity into an advertisement for personal triumph.
Despite the incredible odds against her, she has not only survived but has thrived in her new life. She put herself through college, self-published a book and today is a registered nurse. Most noteworthy is her desire to fill the remaining chapters of her life by helping other people who similarly face extreme adversity.
The thesis of her autobiography is that you have the power to turn around your life, no matter how dire your circumstances may appear. You are not responsible for the environment in which you were born or raised, but you do have the power to write the rest of your story.
Rachel's turnaround in life is nothing short of miraculous. For anyone who suffers from depression, addiction, abuse or some other calamity, this is a must-read book about the human spirit and how resiliency and faith in something greater than yourself can change any difficult storyline, including a city's.
As she can attest, it is always darkest before the dawn.
John Stimpson lives in New York City.