Sacramento City USD - Adult & Continuing Education
Jamillah Kirk had a son, only the most rudimentary of job skills, and was living the nightmare of an abusive marriage. She started working at age 16, and at one point was earning as much as four thousand dollars a month. But, as the violence against her continued, she later found herself unemployed, depressed, and living life in the dark shadows of domestic violence. As she looked for work, Jamillah carried 45 rejection letters around with her. They came from prospective employers who told her that although she had the work experience, she had neither the necessary degree nor technical certificate to get the job she desperately sought. The letters served as a stark reminder that her life was going nowhere. With an income less than one-quarter what she had once earned and no other options left, she applied for AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children). It was a day she describes as "the second saddest day of my life." But her five-year old son had to eat, and that was first and foremost in her mind. Jamillah says "the first saddest day" of her life was when she filed a police report, again, on her husband for domestic violence.
As Jamillah began putting her life back together, two valuable community resources converged to make a profound impact in her life. Women Escaping a Violent Environment (WEAVE), a nonprofit organization established to serve domestic violence victims and their families in Sacramento County provided both Jamillah and her son much needed counseling to help them move forward. "WEAVE's intensive counseling sessions enabled me to confront feelings of inadequacy and lack of self-worth," says Jamillah, "I walked away from the counseling services with a new outlook on life and with a firm belief in my heart that the abuse I suffered at the hands of my husband was not my fault." She credits WEAVE with giving her the strength to take control of and ultimately save her life. Counseling was essential in helping Jamillah to stop feeling sorry for her abuser and to not return to him, which would have been easier because that was the only home she had known for the past 6 years.
Through the county aid program, Jamillah found she was eligible for CALWORKS, which led to the Skills Training and Employment Program (STEP) at the Skills & Business Education Center (Skills Center) in Sacramento. She was assigned a case manager who believed in her abilities and her indomitable spirit. Until the encouragement of her case manager, Jamillah hadn't even known of the program's existence, much less that she could benefit from it. She became, in her own words, "obsessed about education and learning" and was taking control of her life as she began to believe in herself.
Jamillah admits to being frightened at first. She was still haunted by years of abuse and the specter of her abuser, but she found encouragement, understanding, and a helping hand from teachers, friends and caseworkers, both at the Skills Center and WEAVE. "Someone gave me a chance," she says, and she wasted no time in making the best of her newfound opportunity. She enrolled in the Business Occupations program at the Skills Center, and as she overcame her fears, she became a successful and engaged student. She joined the school's Student Council, started a tutoring program for reading, and in April 1999 was selected as Student of the Month and received the Business Occupations Scholarship.
When a Job Fair was hosted by the Skills Center, Jamillah and her Customer Service classmates were given a class assignment by teacher Wallis Miller, herself a recent honoree of the California Adult Students Succeed program. The students were directed to put on a nametag and take a clipboard downstairs to the Job Fair and introduce themselves to fifteen people. The Director of Classified Personnel for the Sacramento City Unified School District was Jamillah's fifteenth and final contact. Her cheerfulness and friendliness so impressed the Director that she was invited to interview for an open position in his office. The result is a career with Sacramento City Unified School District.
After working in two central office positions, Jamillah found a home as Office Manager at Bret Harte Elementary School in September 2002 She supervises the office staff, greets and assists visitors, orders all materials and supplies, ensures that office equipment is working, gives tours of the school, and serves as assistant to the principal, Dr. Ramona Bishop. Dr. Bishop commends Jamillah for welcoming everyone into the school family. "She is the initial contact," said Bishop. "She goes the extra mile. She shares the vision that we believe in all of our children."
Adult Education, and more specifically, the Skills Center helped to turn Jamillah Kirk's life around. Through perseverance and facing her fears head on, Jamillah has become an example of success. She says that an important step is that "you have to believe in yourself." Recently, she took another look at those 45 rejection letters that had served as a reminder and motivation through so many difficult years. She gave them a fleeting glance as they went into the shredder. As she looks back, she declares with assurance, "There is no way I will ever be without a job again."