HOUSTON - A survivor of the Santa Fe High School shooting is a senior this year but in this Positively Houston she's celebrating a significant accomplishment actually achieved by her mother.
"We're basically both seniors.
I'm a senior. She's going into her last semester in the Doctoral Program,” smiles 17-year-old Jai Gillard. Jai's mom Deidra Perry is the first in her family to attend college. She not only has her Bachelor's and Master's degrees. Deidra is seeking her doctorate. "Education is important to me because, one, my mom died at the age of 38 and my dad had a stroke at 42 and he's paralyzed and unable to speak.
They weren't able to fulfill their dreams. For me, I have that opportunity to pursue my dreams. So I am,” says the first-generation college student. The single mom of three has hit a few bumps. "Being a first-generation student was extremely hard because I didn't know what to do. I dropped out of school my first semester because I got pregnant,” Deidra laughs and looks at her daughter Jai and Jai waves.
Hitting snags in school just gave the hard-working mom another obstacle to overcome but she wasn't at all prepared for what happened to her daughter at Santa Fe High School in 2018. "It's still really heavy to talk about. Last week was a struggle. My PTSD and anxiety have greatly increased even though I'm not in the school building,” Jai explains. Even at home, she says school and many other things are difficult after she survived that Santa Fe High School shooting her sophomore year.
"We were all pushed up against the door because it was locked and I felt like I was suffocating and the person was coming closer and I was just standing there because I didn't know what to do,” she recalls. The teenager was there in the art class where the gunman first opened fire. Ten people were killed. "Most of the people sat at my table. Four of them were at my table,” Jai says through tears.
"It's a very real and sensitive situation that we still have to live through. It's not over,” says Deidra. So they do dance therapy, counseling and are mental health advocates.
"I've been able to be an example and light for my community and my school,” Jai adds.
"My favorite scripture is Romans 8:28. So I always see the good in everything,” says Deidra.
So even as they plan for both of their graduations in May to celebrate their spectacular school accomplishments they know working through their most devastating day will likely continue for years.
“The way that I see my life now is the way God wanted my life to be because there's purpose in all of my experiences,” explains Deidra who is an administrator at the University of Houston and her career focus is now on school safety.
Jai wants to become a Behavioral Neuro Psychologist to help people struggling with mental health and she says she hopes to keep things such as school shootings from happening. "Difficult times will come. There will be challenges. You will be faced with adversity. The most important thing is how you respond to those challenges,” says Deidra.
"I think it's time we start building and creating safe spaces for one another. Like just have a small group with you and some friends to take a second out of the day to ask what's going on to talk about those things and try to encourage one another. My mom encourages me. Oh my goodness. I could spend all day telling you what I think of her. I'm just really proud of my mom. Her life is just God showing himself strong,” smiles Jai.
Who do you know that's making a positive difference? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me all about them.