Motivational speaker Elaine Richardson to discuss struggles with prostitution, education as tool for rehabilitation
BY VANESSA SALMANCONTRIBUTING WRITER
Published October 17, 2013 at 12:00 am, The Daily Orange
From a life of prostitution to earning her doctorate, Elaine Richardson has turned her life around. She went from the brink of death to the brink of success.
“I was on drugs and a prostitute,” said Richardson, a professor of literacy studies at Ohio State University.
Richardson, author of “PHD to Ph.D.: How Education Saved My Life,” will speak at Syracuse University on Thursday at an event meant to share her life experiences. She will also perform excerpts from her new memoir in a one-woman show format. The event, which is sponsored by the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, will feature performances, storytelling and music. It is open to the public and will be held in Maxwell Auditorium at 6:30 p.m.
Richardson grew up in an urban area of Cleveland, Ohio, where all of the madness in her life occurred. After being sexually abused, abusing drugs and engaging in juvenile prostitution, Richardson’s life was headed in a downward spiral.
“I was gonna die,” Richardson said. “I was gonna die or be in prison.”
That was until she found education. It saved her life. With the help of mentors and other supportive figures, Richardson was able to turn her life around and become the woman she is today: a professor and a successful motivational speaker.
Richardson said no matter how difficult or frustrating her life got, perseverance was key, especially for a first-generation college student. She added that to achieve success, students must put in as much effort and hard work as they possibly can to take something that may seem out of reach and make it a reality.
Steve Parks, the director of graduate studies at SU, had only good things to say about Richardson, his fellow colleague of research in literacy and language politics. Parks’ publishing company, New City Community Press, published Richardson’s latest work.
“I was struck by its power and honesty,” Parks said in an email. “It’s a brave book — one I’m proud to have published.”
Richardson is the author of three books, and co-author of three more, all discussing African American language patterns. Some of those works include “African American Rhetoric(s): Interdisciplinary Perspectives,” “African American Literacies” and “Hiphop Literacies.”
“Through a powerful personal narrative, Richardson’s book captures the experiences of young adults who struggle to overcome early decisions and build a meaningful life,” Parks said in an email. “In this way, she presents the possibilities in everyone — if we choose to recognize it.”
Parks said Richardson’s demonstration on education can give anyone struggling in life a second chance and can give many students a spark of inspiration. Also, Richardson’s performance and writing could apply to the everyday student who questions whether having an education is ultimately worth the long and difficult journey.
“It could save your life,” Richardson said. “It’s better than being killed or in prison.”
This event is not specifically geared toward students who are going down the wrong path, however, as Richardson noted that people from different fields of study could find this topic interesting. She said she plans to connect her own personal life issues with more relatable, everyday issues facing contemporary society.
Richardson said she will be nothing but authentic and true to herself and her past experiences, one of the reasons she said she thinks students may find her performance appealing.
Despite the serious material, this event should not lead to sadness or depression because of the way Richardson performs. Even though it seems like heavy content, Richardson said she performs in a strong, yet lighthearted manner. If anything, the audience will leave feeling uplifted, inspired and even humored, Richardson said.
Parks described Richardson as a powerful performer, so audiences will definitely be entertained, as she has many stories to share.
Said Parks: “We can sometimes get a bit jaded about the power of education to change lives, but her story demonstrates that fact.”