Family is a concept that can hold various meanings and interpretations depending on who you ask. For me, family is grounded by the unique experiences, connections and stories of individuals who have shaped the narrative of who I am—especially three women who have passed down to me values including the importance of education, leadership and love.
Gloris O. Wright, my great-grandmother, was born in Mississippi in 1931. One of the most resilient individuals I have been fortunate enough to encounter, she consistently emphasized the importance of education in her life and made it a central pillar of her values and beliefs. After becoming valedictorian in her high school class, she acquired a job as a school community representative at an elementary school on the west side of Chicago where, because of her contributions, a science lab was dedicated in her name.
In addition to her educational achievements, she also raised a big family. She and her husband, Leonard, had six children, through whom she continues to push the narrative that you never say, “I can’t,” and it is important to consistently work towards whatever goals you have set for yourself.
Dr. Lynn A. Wright, my grandmother, was born in Chicago in 1953. As the eldest daughter, she carried a strong sense of responsibility and often took leadership and caretaking roles. Growing up in public housing, she has always strived to have a decent education to live up to her mother’s expectations. In high school, my grandmother was automatically placed in multiple regular classes due to her skin color.
However, her science teacher took an interest in her and pushed the school for her to be placed in honors and AP courses, which was the beginning of her mindset that she would do something great. In due course, my grandmother attended Vassar College on a full scholarship. She dropped out to raise her two children after one year, but continued her education and eventually became an anesthesiologist. Through her example, my grandmother has instilled in me the importance of not dismissing my abilities and of assuming a leadership role in my life.
Lael E. Wright, my mother, was born in New York in 1974 and raised in Chicago by my great-grandmother. As a result, she was able to attend the same elementary school that my great-grandmother worked at. And just like her mom, she continued to the University of Michigan with AP credits.
My mother always had someone in her life that supported her and instilled in her the importance of making the best out of what you’re given. She saw her mother overcome tremendous hardships and still excel as a Black female of her generation. A big part of my identity is deeply shaped by my mother’s love and the way that she raised me. She instilled in me to always have a positive attitude and realize that the energy you put into the world and give to people is what you’re going to receive.
The narratives of these three generations have shaped me into who I am today. I take immense pride in being a part of our extraordinary family, knowing that their stories will continue to inspire and guide me on my journey through life.
Teri Dillard is a junior at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and an active member of the Black Business Network.