Christina Dixon, 18, is a rising senior at Northern High School in Durham.
Getting through high school can be tough. It's even harder without parents in the house. That's the story Christina Dixon chose to explore as part of WUNC's Summer Youth Reporting Institute.
When I was 14, I lost my mom. She left behind me, my two sisters who I live with now and my two brothers. After my mom died, it was up to my sisters and me to do everything. It was tough for my sister, Katrina, and me.
"At the time, I couldn't help you because I couldn't help myself," Katrina told Christina. "I had to reach out and get help, and in order for me to help you, I had to go and help myself first. Each day, you became a shell, a missile that shut down. And I felt like that was your way of grieving, and I had to allow you to grieve that way."
I never got around to talking about my mom's death because I never wanted to feel vulnerable or have people take pity on me. But I really needed someone who could be strong and pick up where my mom left off.
Enter Erica Joynes.
She's a teacher I met in 10th grade. We shared common backgrounds, which made it easier to relate to her. Now I call her Ma Joynes.
"You are one of my adopted daughters," Joynes told Christina. "I'm so proud of how you are thinking, and I hope I had a little bit of influence in swaying you to appropriately express your feelings. Everybody has problems. Everyone has something. If you remember, you and I share in common the fact that our mothers are deceased. I know your pain."
Meeting Ms. Joynes is one of the main reasons I stayed in school. I'm going to graduate this year, something half of my family didn't do. For me, poetry and acting helped me cope with my mom's death.
Another thing that helped me was writing. It was my escape. I did a lot of it at the Renaissance Education afterschool program. That's where I met Twan Morris. He wanted to hear my story, and he said I inspire him now.
"It's not a moment where I don't wake up and think, 'What would I do if I had a poem from Christina with me right now? What would I do if I had a sonnet or a booklet of Christina's writing?' So yeah, she does inspire me." Twan said.
Even though I started expressing my feelings, I still felt like I needed a role model, someone to teach me how to be a strong, independent and confident woman. Maybe it was my sister Katrina, who helps with dinner most nights.
"I do believe I can be your role model," Katrina said. "You know, not trying to brag, but I am a breathing, living witness that you can get through the worst of the worst. That I can be a strong role model for you, but you have to want to get the help in order for it to actually work."
Wearing my feelings on my sleeves is not something I'm good at. However, I take comfort in knowing the whole time I was looking for someone to fill in the missing pieces, there were people like my sister all along. I just never really opened my heart.
"I want you to know that I am very proud of you even if I don't say it everyday," Katrina said. "I am very proud of you. And I know that our mother would be proud of you. You have turned into a beautiful young lady with so many goals and ambitions in front of you. I am proud to say you are my sister."
I now realize mentors were all around me. I talked to them everyday. But it was up to me to listen, open up and receive help.