Elaine Richardson, a graduate of East Tech High School in Central, has an extraordinary story to tell. Once a drug-addicted prostitute, Richardson is now an author and professor at The Ohio State University.
On Nov. 14, Richardson told her story — of low self esteem, rape and redemption — to a crowd of people at the main branch of Shaker Heights Public Library. Her book “PHD (Po H# on Dope) to Ph.D.: How Education Saved My Life” is for sale on Amazon.com.
As soon as Richardson took the floor, it became clear that desiring a sense of belonging was going to be the driving theme of her story. From her time as an acne-ridden, chubby teen to her life on the street and her eventual emancipation, Richardson told the audience how she continually sought out acceptance and found addiction and hardship instead.
“My life was just totally unmanageable,” Richardson said. “I was killing my family. I was not there for my child. I just was not there for myself.”
Through the span of the story, it was the love of Richardson’s mother that ultimately pulled her through some of her toughest times. There were times when Richardson would return to her mother’s home and other family members refused to let her inside. Richardson’s mother always did.
“My mother never gave up on me,” Richardson said. “My mother always let me come home.”
Eventually, Richardson told the group that through Project Second Chance, an employment training program, and a mixture of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, she was able to go to Cleveland State University and get on the road to bettering her life. The difference was that she knew to take the advice people gave her rather than trying to go her own way.
“I was too scared at that point not to do what they told me to do,” Richardson said.
Though the content was heavy, Richardson connected with the audience in a way that kept the room from getting too solemn. As Richardson went through her story, she brought characters to life by impersonating their voices and mannerisms. She also injected a bit of humor, allowing her to connect with the audience that spanned age, race and gender.
Richardson’s story was filled with tragic turns, bad decisions and drug abuse. It also showed how the love of her mother and her religion got her through the tough years of her life to get an education and eventually obtain her Ph.D.
~ Article by Justin Rutledge, a Benedictine High School graduate with a journalism degree from Bowling Green State University.