Terryonna Nunnelly, 26, wife, mother, advocate, educator, Columbia, MO. Portrait taken on 12/15/2022
Terryonna Nunnelly, 26, wife, mother, advocate, educator, Columbia, MO.
Portrait taken on 12/15/2022
Portrait taken on 12/15/2022
My name is Terryonna Nunnelly. I am a healing twenty-six-year-old Black woman. I am an imperfect, emerging leader.
My story begins in Columbia, Missouri where I was born and raised by my very own set of superheroes, my mother Christy Moten and my grandmother Gussie Samuels. I had a poor upbringing, and I resented my mother so much for this. Until I was an adult. Until I realized the challenges she faced and the sacrifices she made to give us the little she could provide.
As young as I could remember I was taking care of my siblings, my ill grandmother and our home. My mother worked evening shifts most evenings returning home after we had all fallen asleep. I would wake my grandmother at 5:00am to dress her and get her ready for dialysis three days a week from kindergarten through eighth grade. I would turn around and wake my siblings and get us ready for our school days. When we would return home, the kids would go out and play, my duties were helping my grandmother cook and clean since I was the only child that “did it right”. This is one of the reasons everyone calls me for family recipes. My entire life, if I didn’t move, the house didn’t move.
At a young age I was molested by loved ones who were also victims. I do not blame them, for kids are sponges and show love the way it is showed to them. Fear is what kept my lips sealed but God is who reminds me of all the times I was forgiven, and I must do the same.
I became aggressive and angry at the world. I was teased because I had to wear my brother's clothes to school. My breaking point was watching him help his friends make fun of me. Just about every day of 6th 7th and 8th grade I was fighting. At school, at the bus stop, at home, at the park it didn’t matter. I still have a running joke. “These hands are rated E for ERRYBODY”. I fought for my brothers, I fought for my sister, I fought and was jailed for my mother. I was a Tasmanian devil with some strong blows.
I became a hypersexual teen which resulted into my first blessing, who I named Da’Naya, at the age of 15. At the age of 15 my clothes were in totes under our dining room table and my bed was our living room couch. I was afraid. From the time I found out at five months pregnant, I was told my life was over from a room full of teen moms… my family. So, I did what any other 15-year-old would do in a panicked situation. I LIED. I said I was raped so my husband wouldn’t get shipped to his father’s house in Mexico, MO.
See, as teens, we fended for ourselves. As long as we were home before the streetlights came on, anything was free game. We formed the “Chop Shop Crew”, a group of 8-10 Black teens rapping at my momma’s house, cutting grass, shoveling snow, taking out trash, and whatever else we could do to make enough money for us all to EAT on a daily basis. If one eats, we all eat. That was our motto.
Grinding has always been in me, even before I found out I was pregnant. Being pregnant only made us grind harder. We went to every free program, every free parenting class I could find to prepare. I utilized just about every low-income program I could remember being in as a child to provide for my child. At the age of 16, my mother and I could no longer see eye to eye and by that time I had saved up enough money to purchase my first car and rent an apartment on Quail. It was a rough time for all parties involved. I was 16 with a 4-month-old sweeping sidewalks downtown (The District) before and after school coming home to crackheads dancing in my yard and stealing my utilities from the basement of the apartment complex.
I graduated Douglass High School in 2014. My Douglass family is one of the biggest contributors to why I even graduated in the first place. My light was relit, and each time I got knocked down they would light it again for me.
I went on to face challenges in my college life. Finagling the system to keep my childcare assistance and to keep my FAFSA running smoothly so I could continue to plug at classes and work. I was working at Head Start as an aide, then teacher, braiding hair on the side and going to school to stay afloat until I graduated from MACC with my Associates in Arts and Teaching. One thing I will always do is MAKE something happen outta nothing!
In 2015, I went to my siblings wanting to move us out of the hood with our momma. We all agreed and moved into a big house in central Columbia. Things were good until they weren’t. In 2017, I married my childhood sweetheart Shawn Nunnelly, II. A time that was planned to be so happy is when life threw so many lemons at us. One day, I came home after work to a moving truck in the driveway and family moving things away. I was told I had the rest of the day to find place for me and Shawn. My daughter looked at me and said, “Mom, where are we going to sleep tonight?” My heart shattered into a billion pieces. I never wanted my children to experience an ounce of what I had to as a child.
For a month we were homeless newlyweds waiting on our next apartment to be ready. We stayed at my best friend mother’s house, Tameka Lewis. She refused to let us pay her for opening her home to me, my husband, my child, and our dog. I left as much food as I could when we left, and I would send tiny packages when I could. That is when I knew the grind will always be bigger than me and I had no intentions of stopping anytime soon.
The Associate’s Degree allowed me to go back to Douglass High school to become an instructional aide in the CRIBS program. A chance to go back and be the person I needed in high school. I loved every bit of helping the young moms and being a part of their lives at such an unsure and difficult time. I was not only reliving my teen mom days in CRIBS, I also had two more blessings by the names of Shawn, III and Jaheem during my time working in CRIBS.
2018-2022 was a critical time for me. I was plugging away at my Bachelor’s degree at Columbia College. I had road bump after road bump being tossed from every direction. I felt blindfolded at times while trying to finish this degree to get across the stage. My experience would turn anyone else in my shoes away. But for me, it was something I knew I needed to accomplish. For me, for my babies, for my people.
Before the year 2022 started, I was getting job offers at companies waiting on me to walk across the stage. I had never had so much pressure on my back. Full time job, attending college full time, braiding LOTs of hair and trying to figure out my next step. I told myself I wouldn’t work at place where I felt so alone while navigating through. God chuckled and told me it was time to go back and help the students who were lost just like I was.
I am now a Proud TRiO SSS Advisor at Columbia College. I serve first generation, low-income and students with disabilities navigating college with all its glory and road bumps to graduation and career placement.
I am proud of who I am and all that I have overcome. I am imperfect, but that is what reminds me that we are all human and we have our own challenges to face.