“I was brought back from the dead,” says Smith. “I’ve got a lot of gratitude right now.”
“I came to Philadelphia in 2008 and surrendered to my addiction,” says Yolanda Fletcher, choking back tears. “Now I want to give back to children. I always had it in my spirit to help children.”
Fletcher breaks down sobbing to the point where she can hardly speak. She turns around to Simmons and chokes out, “Michelle, you allowed me to become a woman again.”
At this point, the party is almost taking on the fever of a tent revival: arms sway high the air, people all over the room are yelling, “Amen!”
Next, Malissa Gamble, an alum, takes the podium.
“So often we burn our bridges and we have to go to the extended family,” she thunders. “They don’t tell you about that!”
By extended family, Gamble means friends, ex-addicts, fellow women. Many of the women in the room were in the same position as tonight’s graduates just a few years ago, shaking and unsure of what comes after the life you’ve known for so long is gone.
Simmons mentored Gamble, who mentored Smith, who is graduating tonight. Gamble implores everyone to keep the chain going.
“We’re told, go back to Muncy and get one,” Gamble says. “Reach back, get one, and take them with you!”
First Person Arts Podcast: Proud Mom