By all rights, Salome Harrison’s life should be different from it is. She should not have a good job. She should not have two great children who do well in school and are busy with extracurricular activities.
Salome grew up poor in Birmingham, Ala., the daughter of a single mother who wasn’t much of a presence in her life. It wasn’t always her mom’s fault — she was working a lot — but Salome said, “I was one of those kids growing up whose parent didn’t know what was going on.”
This is not usually a recipe for success. How, then, did Salome know what was going on? How is it that her kids — Kiera, 14, and Isaiah, 13 — have their heads screwed on straight? How, with the absence of many close role models, did Salome succeed as a mother?
“Most parents say they want better for their kids than they have,” Salome told me. “It was just kind of that. I wanted to make sure that they had every opportunity that I didn’t have.”
So there was some tiny recognition that things didn’t have to be for her kids the way they were for her. All she needed was a spark. She got it.
“I think I was lucky that I had a set of teachers that recognized my situation and tried to help me out,” she said.
And it helped that Salome is smart. As dire as things may have been at home — her older sister got pregnant at a young age; after falling out with her mother, Salome lived with a friend’s family her senior year — things were different at school. She took AP classes in calculus and physics. She got good grades. A teacher took her to an engineering fair at a local university. Salome thought that profession sounded pretty good.
After high school, she enrolled in a Navy officer training program that included college but had to drop out after 11 months when she developed asthma. She could have given up there, but she didn’t. She was admitted to Old Dominion University, where a university adviser suggested that she focus on computer engineering. Salome graduated in four years from a five-year program. Today, she’s a computer programmer with the federal government, and her family lives in Bowie. She’d been married to a Navy man, but when the marriage ended almost 10 years ago, she became a single mom.
That may be the only thing her children have in common with her.
“I came from a single-parent household. They’re in a single-parent household,” she said. “But I didn’t want them to grow up with no interaction. I try to keep them involved with things. I try to be there, to know what’s going on in their lives. That way I can help steer them.”
This summer, Kiera and Isaiah will return to Camp Moss Hollow, a summer camp in Fauquier County. It’s a place full of kids from troubled families. Kiera and Isaiah aren’t that, but for Salome it’s an important part of their summer nonetheless.
“I came from a very poor family,” she said. “I lived in a poor neighborhood. Luckily, my kids have not had to go through that. I want them to know it’s out there. I like that there’s a diverse background of kids [at Moss Hollow], so they can hear what the kids have gone through, see other kids and how they’ve dealt with it, same as I did, see that there are more examples than just me.”
I told Salome that I found her inspirational.
“I am definitely not perfect,” she laughed. “I am definitely a work in progress.”
Shouldn’t we all be?
If it weren’t for the support of Washington Post readers there would be no Camp Moss Hollow. Your generous donations keep the camp going and help ensure that kids who may not otherwise be able to afford it can go. My goal this year is to raise $500,000 by July 27. So far, we’ve raised $23,734. Camp starts June 25, so please give soon.
To make a tax-deductible donation, go to washingtonpost.com/camp. Click where it says “Give Now,” and designate “Send a Kid to Camp” in the gift information. Or mail a check payable to “Send a Kid to Camp” to Send a Kid to Camp, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.
To read previous columns by John Kelly, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.