A second chapter in life
Life comes with many twists and turns, and while it won’t make sense at the moment you are experiencing them, later on, those lessons and trials pay dividends in your future endeavors. Tashieka Russell is a person that was dealt a particular hand in life, and a lot of her trials and tribulations, while affecting her a great deal, also helped and propelled her to become the person she is today.
Russell served in the United States Army for 21 years, enlisting after having attended a year at college. But her journey before getting into the military was the reason she joined.
“Before I joined the army, my life was pretty rough as I grew up in a single-parent home in the inner city of Pittsburgh. I didn’t know my father as he moved back to Ghana and never returned when I was young,” Russell said. “I survived a lot of abuse from my stepfather, but I was able to make it through, and I arrived at Virginia State University (VSU) with nothing but a suitcase and a dream.”
Russell attended VSU with little help and was in line to struggle while at school, but with the eventual support of Kittie Winston and the Black-owned church Greenwood Baptist church, Russell made it through the first year of college.
“I didn’t have anything, not even basic toiletries. They did what they could, but that year was still rough for me as I was food insecure, housing insecure, and on top of that, I was still dealing with issues from my childhood that were affecting daily life,” she said in remembering her first year at college. “Eventually, my life came down to ending it or joining the army, and I chose the latter.
“While there were challenges when I initially joined, it wasn’t hard because my life prior was so difficult. I knew if I could survive that, I could survive the army,” she said. “It wasn’t kind, and I was in a male-dominated field, and often I was the only woman in the unit. I dealt with a lot of sexual harassment and even dealt with sexual assault incidents. There was a lot of power struggles I had to work through in the military.” Russell worked as a Patriot missile crewmember.
Russell credits her strength not only to get through life but the military to her mother and grandmother, each deeply rooted in the Black Panther movement and instilled in Russell a great deal of resilience, strength, and pride to prepare her to weather life’s storms.
“I am grateful for [these experiences] that have given me the inspiration to start the next chapter of my life post-military,” Russell said. “It’s like looking in the mirror as I am African and African American, and while I am not close to my African side, learning about history has aided in my personal development as a Black woman.”
Russell recently graduated from Arizona State University, where she pursued her bachelor’s in African and African-American Studies through ASU Online. She plans on becoming a Smithsonian fellow to delve more into the African Diaspora, African-American history, and the importance of all Black people coming together.