c.2023, Legacy Lit
Something’s all wrong about this scenario.
It doesn’t even look right. It’s a mess, which isn’t how you expected it to be. No, you should’ve turned around the minute you saw it, walked out the door, and denied all responsibility but now you’re involved. And in the new memoir “I Wasn’t Supposed to Be Here” by Jonathan Conyers, making things good is going to take some work.
For most of his earliest life, Jon Conyers was never totally sure where he’d wake up the next weekend. His parents were both addicted to crack, and moving from apartment to shelter and back and from state to state happened all the time for him and his siblings.
“I just knew I never felt safe,” he says.
Despite that his childhood was “tinged with trauma,” Conyers’ parents insisted on one good thing: that their five children get an education. That was the family beacon, an unwavering base that never changed. Conyers says his parents were often high but they still showed up to parent-teacher conferences, without fail, and his older brothers each attended college.
Conyers, however, struggled. He did well in school while the family lived in Virginia, but back in New York, the streets were often more appealing than a classroom.
He says that the old African proverb is correct, though: it does take a village to raise a child. He saw, early on, that if you don’t have a village, you need to build one yourself — and that’s what he did.
When he had trouble staying in school, a mentor held him accountable. Others saw past the righteous anger that surfaced from him sometimes, and they pushed him to study at a Harlem high school that helped him channel his energy and succeed. He was further encouraged to apply for a summer program that expanded his horizons.
Conyers says “I was going to learn all I could, be successful, and come back to help the people in my community.”
And then his dream was almost derailed by one small thing …
Does this story sound familiar? If you’re a fan of “Humans of New York” on social media or in books, then you might have read bits of author Jonathan Conyers’ story. In “I Wasn’t Supposed to Be Here,” you’ll get the rest of it.
And you’ll see the grace inside this story, so much grace that it almost makes you weep.
Starting before he was born, Conyers writes, it seemed as though the universe was conspiring against him: he was almost aborted, he was sometimes hungry, and sometimes homeless. His education was often in question, as was his life, but there’s no real complaining in the telling of any of this. Readers just get the facts, in a voice that uplifts as it conveys awe at the presence of angels in a “village.”
While this book seems aimed at adults, it could be a wonderful, meaningful gift for older teens, too. If anyone needs a feel-good, “I Wasn’t Supposed to Be Here” is all kinds of right.