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Today, inaugurating our series, we welcome part 1/3 of Sidney Covington's interview by our close collaborator Martina Castellanos.
Martina Castellanos: To start off, can you tell us who you are and what you do at Senator Gillibrand’s office?
Sidney Covington: Well, my name is Sidney Covington and I am a Constituent Liaison for Military and Veteran Affairs in the Office of Senator Gillibrand.
MC: Thank you. Now, let me ask you, coming out of high school, going into college, did you know what you wanted to major in?
SC: Yes, unlike a lot of people that I know who have switched their major various times, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and that was to get my masters degree in Social Work.
MC: I know this is a very broad question, but I want to know, what’s your story? Have you had any events in your life marked you or changed who you are today?
SC: Yes, something I'm learning how to do is sharing my story. I have a friend who knows it and forces me to share it.
I was actually a homeless college student. I was working 2-3 jobs, going to school full time, and living out of the back of my Ford Focus. It was a 2007 Gold Ford Focus. It was something that completely, drastically changed my life.
Afterwards, I joined the military -something I thought I would never do. I’m from the Chicago area, so I left home and moved to Atlanta. I was chasing a dream of going to a different school outside of Illinois. And I did, but it was a struggle, and I did not realize how hard it was going to be.
One of my greatest lessons in wanting to pursue a higher education was being able and willing to be flexible and to think outside the box, because my 18 year old self -before I went off to college- would have never raised her right hand to join the military, but 19-year-old Sidney, who needed to find a solution for housing, was more than willing to do it. Having that ability to be flexible to reach your goals is definitely something very important to me.
MC: Wow, I am very humbled and honored that you shared that with me. Thank you.
SC: I think something that is interesting is being homeless. Maybe it was the mindset I was in. When you're younger you're a lot more optimistic.
I think one of my biggest struggles in life was actually transferring out of the military. I left such a structured environment. I was guaranteed a salary, I was guaranteed housing, food... And leaving the military was something like: "I’m risking losing all of that, and I worked so hard to get it. I’m risking all of this to go back into the civilian world."
And I think at one point, right after grad school, I was like: "Oh, I don’t want to do this anymore. I should go back to the military, it is going to be so much easier. I know what to expect. The military is very structured, so I know what my day to day will look like even when they throw random stuff at me. I thought it was just a lot easier." And this is when I was in that period of not having a job.
Which is why I recommend giving yourself a cushion, because there are people who will be able to graduate with a job, but there are also a lot of people who will not, and I think it was finally when I got the interview and received the job offer for Senator Gillibrand’s Office that I thought: "You know, maybe I don’t have to go back to the military just yet.
MC: Are there any specific stories about your childhood that particularly transformed you into the person you are today?
SC: Well, my childhood was not the best childhood, I guess. My dad was physically abusive and my mom struggled with mental health. So most of my life, after my parents split up, I dealt with more neglect than I did with actual physical abuse and so I think that actually made me who I am today.
I work so hard to be different, and to make it so that my future nieces, nephews and my kids know life can change. I am one of those people who believe in family curses, and I was the first person on my dad’s side to get a college degree.
I feel like that's somewhat a generational curse, where we had a history of family members not able to obtain a university degree, and I became the first one to do so. And I think just the drive of wanting something different, because I knew there was something different, is what made me become who I am.
Now I always think there is a solution, somehow. I just don't know what it is at the moment, but I'm going to find it.
MC: I understand. When I lived in Miami, my family lost our home so we had to move into my aunt's room in Texas. Even though this is nothing compared to what you probably lived through, I feel like it was the most important moment in my life because it has made me very grateful for everything.
Going through that experience showed me you need to be thankful for everything that happens in your day. When I eat, I don’t see it as just pizza or salad. I stop for a second, and I’m just genuinely grateful that I am able to have food.
What do you think is a common problem amongst women? Have you struggled with this? And how do you combat it?
SC: That's a tough question because I feel like being a woman of color is a bit different. I think something a lot of women of color struggle with is imposter syndrome, and that is something I feel like I have dealt with a lot, even in my current workspace.
Sometimes I feel I don’t belong, or ask myself "how did I get here?" I feel like that has made it so much harder, sometimes, to be able to say "I have worked hard for this and I deserve it." And I feel like that is a common trend amongst women, especially women of color.
I feel like we often feel like we don’t belong in certain spaces because often times we are the only person that looks like us in those spaces, and it's so hard to feel like you belong. So yes, I deal with that a lot. And I feel like this has been common for us. I have talked to friends, and it's a common topic we discuss. It is often times that we feel like we don’t belong in certain spaces.
MC: Do you feel like this is internal or do you feel like it's a byproduct of how people treat you?
SC: I think it's a mixture of both, there is the internalization of the oppressive sense of people looking at you like you don’t belong in this space, and people making slight micro-aggression.
MC: What do you do to cope?
[to be continued]
We all want to know how some women cope with everyday struggling, feeling like we don't belong, tolerating injustice and aggression, not to mention oppression and the pressure of doing the right womanly thing.
And on part 2/3 we'll learn how Sidney manages coping, her experience in the military and her thoughts on MST (Military Sexual Trauma).