“Her escape was music—music saved her life.”
The elder I chose is Cilia Rachelle Wednesday Rogers. She’s my auntie, but not just any auntie. She’s the auntie that I can go to for anything and everything—from every conversation in the book to money. She was born in Santa Monica, California, and even though she’s fourty-one years old, she still has influenced me and brought me the greatest memories growing up. She has chestnut brown skin, warm brown eyes, and a big smile. She’s very fashionable, chunky, and about an inch taller than me, five-foot six inches. She has a mid-range, raspy voice because of singing, which she does for her career. She’s a good person at heart, but sometimes her actions can be misinterpreted. She’s the kindest, most loving person who can show an intensely scary side if you mess with anything within her values.
She was born out here in California, but went to Missouri, which was an old slave state and is, of course, a racist state. They didn’t treat her as the African American queen she really is. She also went through different kinds of abuse at different foster homes. As an African American woman, she represents love even through the dark days she goes through. She’s fun-loving and encouraging, but do not mess with her possessions and values because she will show intense violence through her silent attack mode. I’ve been taught to always respect “your elders” and that “elders” means not old people but the people who’ve already been through the stress we call life. As an elder she’s young, but she has already had an adventurous life, starting from a young age.
She was raised by her father and hired nannies until he married her step-mom. They moved often, but she kept visiting her grandparents who became her inspiration. There was a custody battle between her parents so she moved in with her grandparents and finally started going to public schools and church. She then moved to Missouri at the age of 13. For the year she lived with her father, she went through sexual and physical abuse. Like all people who get tired of a life of battle, she ran away with her brother and got put into foster care with her brother.
When things were rough in her life she looked for encouragement. She took experience at her racist school and turned it into an opportunity to do better and get out with accomplishments. Her escape was music—music saved her life because when we was down, she used singing to keep going. She then got a career out of music and today she sings in big venues, like clubs and concerts for different celebrities, or to her close friends One of the best things about her is that she knows when to be an aunt and when to be an advisor and that a teenager’s mind can be the best thing, especially when you don’t feel like being fussed over.
My auntie and I can definitely relate in a few ways. I have gone through loads of trials as a teenager and I’ve seen things not every child is supposed to see. My parents got separated and that scarred me. It’s not only the fact that my dad left my immediate family, it’s the fact that it took my mom so long and so many crying nights for him to come back and abuse my family in a mental way. I was off the rocks with my father. Not only did I look like my mother, which was already a trigger for my father, but I also fought against him for my mother. We lived in many houses and kept moving. It was kind of like my parents playing tennis with my brother and I, and it got tiring. My brother and I would complain a lot, but because we were little kids, we were always told we didn’t have a choice in any matter.
I was bullied from kindergarten to eighth grade and that also scarred me, especially because I already had depression and anxiety. They would call me ugly and push me into a wall or down the stairs, and tease me for always spending time alone. I was always the one in the books and they would tease me for being a bookworm and always being nervous to present in front of a class. I had my mom and aunt to thank in those days. Auntie would tell me: “Never show your weakness because then that’s when they know they have a power over you.” Because I always kept that quote in mind, it helped me through my toughest trials.
My mother’s part of the family always sings in church and the bug caught onto me. Before music I was stuck in my own mind not knowing how to get out. But then Gospel music came into my ears and changed my mindset for the good. Whenever I’m down, I sing, or dance.
To be abused mentally and physically means you’re going to go through mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, and even bipolar issues. You don’t know what to do with yourself and you think you have no one to help you because you don’t trust anyone. You feel your body slowly melting away and you think this is the end. Fear tells us that our parents or guardians are going to beat us again and we’re going to get in trouble for doing what we love. But like my aunt used to always say to me, “Never let your mind take over you because it is easy for that to happen, but keep fighting for yourself because no one else is going to fight for you.”
My auntie was the one to teach me how to love, but how to also be a fighter and laugh in my toughest times. She encourages me to lead and cherish everything in my pathway and to be smart with my decisions. To her, I say, I love you and thank you so much for everything.
About the Author
Growing up, Ashley moved around a bit. She grew up in a couple of neighborhoods around LA County, from Carson to Los Angeles. Ashley loves music,
singing, and dancing. She finds comfort in Gospel music. Her narrative describes her relationship with her aunt, family conflict, and learning to love.
About the Book
In Through the Same Halls, Journeys of Elders Born and Raised in South Central and Beyond, 55 students at Manual Arts High School captured cultural, economic, and historical landscapes of the communities they call home in South Central and beyond. The exchange of history is documented through personal narrative, interviews, and photography. In this collection, you will find snapshots of elders who shaped the world that younger generations inherited like Ashley’s “Whenever I’m Down, I Sing”—and see the faces of the next generation who will shape its future.
Photos courtesy of Star Montana and Las Fotos Project.