Leala recalls her first day of school as a six-year old.
"I experienced a feeling that I was different because of my mixed race. The stares, the insults and the way people treated me in general, gave me the sense that people did not like me."
At a young age, Leala's family was ripped apart by abandonment and divorce. After relocation and her father's eventual remarriage, Leala found herself suffering from the harsh combination of neglect and abuse.
"My hair was hardly cared for, my bathing habits were bad, and my clothing was dingy, dirty and either too big or too small," she said.
Her physical appearance led to embarrassment, constant bullying and horribly low self-esteem.
Then in the ninth grade, Westlake High School CIS Site Coordinator Dr. Demona Warren came into Leala's life, provided her with one-on-one mentoring and embraced Leala with motherly love.
"Dr. Warren was like a net catching me and breaking my downward spiral," Leala said. "She's been the mother-figure I desperately needed. She's provided security and she's helped rebuild my confidence."
Leala was a candidate for Governor's Honors, selected for National Honors Society and was featured on 11Alive's morning show ATL&Co
in November to share her story.
Read what Leala says below about the impact Dr. Warren and CIS of Atlanta has made in her life:
- Leala Hailey
- Westlake High School CIS caseload student Leala Hailey, CIS of Atlanta Site Coordinator Dr. Demona Warren and CIS of Georgia President Carol Lewis
- Dr. Warren and Leala are ready for their interview on ATL&Co.
- Leala and Dr. Warren run into Cedric the Entertainer behind the scenes.
"What does is mean to live? I never knew until after 14 years of being ALIVE. Passively going through life unaware of what actions really meant. Unaware of what normal really looked like, and most of all, what would be predestined for my future?
Caramel. Cookies n’ Cream. Domino. Half-baked. Zebra. Skunk. Mulatto - I've heard it all from my first memory to now. I didn't know what it meant to be called mulatto as a young girl. I was born in North Carolina, a baby - naive and innocent - knowing no right or wrong only that I’m seeing light for the first time. However, before I was even conceived, my life was predicted. I will go through unlikely struggles to be part of something so massive it would take said struggles to get there.
Starting school in the south, I experienced ethnic dilemmas in school and in public even when I was too young to know what they meant. I was happy though because I remained in my father’s unhealthy bubble, he made the insults good by calling me these things himself so I believed they were compliments and I smiled. It wasn't until the divorce of my parents and being in the dark that I discovered their true meanings.
My mother left my father without telling me where she was going and only taking her two boys. She left the youngest three and I with my father, which became too much for him alone so we abandoned that home to move to New York with his parents. At this time I was six going on seven. I still was ignorant under my father’s wing and knew nothing about life. I misbehaved often and I was very headstrong. At this time, I was in kindergarten - devastated and confused that my parents weren't together and even more upset of their new partners.
Upon living with my father and stepmother, I faced neglect and abuse, which only deteriorated my mindset even more. I did my best to remain a bright uplifting person, but this became a complicated task as time proceeded.
I went to school with low levels of confidence due to my physical appearance and embarrassment of still wetting the bed. My hair was hardly cared for, my bathing habits were not supervised nor enforced, and the clothing I wore was dingy, dirty and either too big or too small. If my appearance and stench wasn't enough to abate my chances of a friend, I was socially awkward. I never said the right things and when I finally thought I had a friend, I was only teased.
Bus rides home in elementary school dismayed me. The kids would throw papers at me, pull my nappy hair, call me out of my name, and dump out my book bag. Tearfully, I would pick my things up and carry on as though this were a permanent part of my agenda.
In middle school, things began to improve. I made my first real friend and I started taking some control of my health. By eighth grade I had taken control of as much of my life as I could, but I couldn't get past the scars of the past, so I also held myself back. Then I meet Dr. Warren.
Immediately when we met we connected. The moment she took my hand in hers then pulled me in for a hug- it changed me. Dr. Warren provided the abyss of love that I had missed out on all those years - the proper attention and care I sought through my life.
Dear Dr. Warren has been the net to catch me in my downward spiral, the steady ground to keep me up right and most of all, the mother-figure I desperately needed. She’s provided security and tools necessary for me to succeed in school and in life.".