Deferring a Dream – Part II

By Marlena Okechukwu (Follow us on LinkedIn)

Throughout the years, I have held odd jobs while I worked my way through school. I eventually took the scenic route to a second career that puts me very close to one of my first dreams – to be a lawyer. As a law librarian, I get to work in a field that I have always wanted to in a significant way. It’s not exactly what I dreamed of but it’s close enough. So, what happens to a dream deferred anyway? For me, it expanded. It broadened to include the things that I could do with what I had, exactly where I was. 

The dreams that I had for myself at the young age of 13 were meaningfully deferred. An internal force turned my 13th year upside down and there was no part of it that was the same after my parents separated. And while people adjust, we don’t necessarily accept or make peace with circumstances we are forced into. So was the case for me. I adjusted to my new life, but I didn’t accept it. I hated and resented it. We went from a relatively middle-class existence to a poverty of sorts. We landed in the Bronzeville area of the South side, in low-income housing known as “row houses” which were the Chicago Housing Authority’s attempt to offer townhouse style homes for families. The notorious Stateway Gardens housing projects loomed over the neighborhood, just a few blocks away. 

Stateway Gardens looking north onto Dearborn Street south of 39th Street in Chicago, Illinois, January 12, 1959. Photo by Clarence W Hines/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

Right above our new home, the rusted, deteriorated raised tracks of the “L”* train cast a gloomy shadow as it roared past every seven to ten minutes.

My new walk to school included such sights as vacant lots with broken glass and trash strewn about. Although it was a world-class city, Chicago never stood a chance. I hated it from the moment we arrived. I lived with the constant hope that one day we would go back “home”. After many years, I settled with the fact that Chicago was home, but it never felt like it. I never felt connected to the city in any meaningful way so I wandered as did my dreams.

Photo by Max Bender on Unsplash

Why am I bringing this up? Because the dreams that Mrs. Shook encouraged us to have and hold on that field trip to her house in 6th grade, seemed almost impossible now. It is incredibly difficult to dream of something better in an environment where everything around you screams poverty, worthlessness, and neglect. I lost sight of any dreams I had for myself for many years. But they remained.

I never forgot about my dream to be a lawyer, it just seemed so far out of reach. I dropped out of college several times because I could never decide on a major and being a lawyer was all I ever really wanted to do. A friend finally told me “get your degree in anything, just get it”. And so, I did. As a result, my experiences and education have taken me on a journey that prepared me for a destination that I never dreamed of – law librarianship.   Personally, I believe I would have been a hell of a litigator, but I’m also pretty good at finding things. I am always looking to learn new things, and, in my mind, I am a part time detective! As a law librarian, all of those things come in handy, and I get to apply them in a field that I have always had a love for. As I reflect however, I don’t think that it was solely being a lawyer that attracted me, but the idea of justice and standing up for others. As law librarians, those ideals are still there and relevant, we just provide it in a different manner and that’s good enough for me. That’s the thing about dreams, they don’t always come through crystal clear so it’s up to us to make meaning out of what we see. 


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.