I sat at a bagel shop sipping on my coffee, catching up with Joey, and waiting for the rain to stop. An older woman walked past me and complimented my shoes. “Thank you! I had to make sure to wear nice shoes today. I just finished speaking at a high school in Newark. Kids pay attention to every detail so I had to make sure I looked on point.” I half-joked. After speaking to her for five minutes, she told me she was an actress/singer. She looked to be in her late fifties to early sixties. And as we continued to talk, her tone lowered and voice left behind a sadness that lingered long after our conversation. She said, “Things are tough, you know? We live in a very agist society. So to make money, I’m a paralegal.” Our interaction danced in my head for a few hours. She seemed like overall a happy person who have been deceived so many times. And as age crept up on her (as it does to everyone), she has no other choice but to keep smiling as she chases her dreams.
It was a big day overall for me, you see? I woke up at 5 am determined and eager to get started. As I was preparing myself for the day’s engagements, so many thoughts and memories crept in and out of my head. I was on my way to Newark first thing to present my work and passion to a few groups of high school students. As I slowly wrapped my head wrap before heading out (one of my favorite things to do when I get ready), I thought about my own high school career in Newark- the many basketball games, that time I participated in a fashion show, when I was president of my class, and the day I ran back in to the school because a student got shot right in front of the building. All of these thoughts started crowding my mind, and I started to wonder about the students I was about to meet. I carefully selected my outfit for the occasion. I didn’t want to be too casual, and I wanted it to scream “Paola!” I chose an African print midi and paired it with a pin-striped striped classic blouse. I also thought my suede shoes would complement my “leather” headwrap and add a nice touch of edge and chicness to the look.
It’s really important to me that whatever I create or participate in has some kind of meaning. So I always think of different ways to approach and read my audience. I never want to speak AT a group of people. I like to interact and to listen to them as well. Isn’t it wonderful to feel that your voice matters? Every time I’ve had the opportunity to speak, and I’ve had my fair share of experiences this past year, I’ve taken notes on how to tell my story better the next time around, and a big part of storytelling is listening. I never want to sound like I’m preaching, and I like for my audience to see me as me- just a girl who got very curious and started creating her own adventures despite statistics and different circumstances.
I talked to them about the gazillion jobs I’ve had since I moved to the states, and why I quit my first job. I talked to them about the importance of going to school, not just for education, but for the connections I made. I told the strength of women is what I chose to focus on because it inspires me daily. I loved their questions too. They were so passionate and kind. And before I left, a student asked me to wrap her up, and it made me incredibly happy that she wanted to wear the head wrap for the day.
Photos: Joseph Rosado