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My Turn: Learning to never take ‘no’ for an answer

Deborah L. Davis in 1982

Deborah L. Davis in 1982 Credit: Deborah L. Davis

I’ve never felt that I’ve had unlimited possibilities in my life. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I was born poor, black and female during a time when it was a severe disadvantage to be any one of them.

Barring what I believed were my obvious handicaps that limited my possibilities, and going forward to do the best I could with what I had, I fought to overcome additional societal obstacles sometimes in my way.

A major childhood obstacle that I overcame was when my mother would constantly remind me, “You’re going to need me before I need you.” Coming from my mother, I often wondered why she’d want me to be in need. By the time I was in my midteens and wanting to spread my wings and leave home as hurriedly as possible, my innate independent self responded to my mother’s warning of needing her with, “I’ll be damn; it ain’t gonna happen.”

And, it didn’t. Her words only made me more determined to never have to need or ask her for anything.

There were times when it has also been implied, or told outright, that I couldn’t do certain things or certain things were impossible to do. There was the time in high school when English was removed from my schedule for a semester, and I was denied having it included. It was obvious that it wasn’t intended for me to graduate or, at the very least, not in a timely manner. Determined not to spend one day past June 1967, I doubled up on English classes after locating an available class on my own, ignoring the discouragement of the guidance department.

And then at Nassau Community College, after acing all of my classes, I enrolled in a simple math class whose teacher spent more time fooling and joking around with the students and playing games than teaching the subject. To circumvent his behavior, I attempted to get help in the tutoring lab, to no avail, and eventually dropped the course to avoid ruining my GPA. I had to repeat and repay out-of-pocket for another semester with a different instructor, which also delayed my re-entry into the workforce. I aced the course and determined that the first instructor had misrepresented effectively teaching the class. I requested a refund from the office of the college president.

I was told by several people that I would never get it. But I got it, and the refund also included the activity fees associated with the course. I graduated the following May, magna cum laude.

I’ve learned that “nothing beats a failure but a try.” The worst that can happen is you may be told “no,” and you’ll be no further behind.

But what if you’re told “yes”?

Deborah L. Davis


YOUR STORY Letters and essays for MY TURN are original works by readers that have never appeared in print or online. Share special memories, traditions, friendships, life-changing decisions, observations of life, or unforgettable moments for possible publication. Email, or write to Act 2 Editor, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747. Include name, address and phone numbers. Photos if available.

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