How I Rose From Abject Poverty
“Consciousness Magazine 16th Year Anniversary” Established 2004
Written by Aaron Robinson [IG @iamcomprehend]
As I sit back in my office chair, I begin to reminisce about some of the obstacles and challenges I went through. Going through these stages were long lasting, inspiring, artistic, and unpredictable. In most scenarios, these unpredictable events would seem to have had a negative impact on my life, but instead, led me down a righteous path that has always had a happy ending. If it weren’t for these challenges I may have never developed my skills in fine arts and recording rap and hip-hop vocals. When these talents were combined with my social, interpersonal, disciplined, and leadership skills, the innovative “Consciousness Magazine” was born.
Consciousness Magazine wasn’t an overnight realization; it took nearly a year of strategic business planning after graduating from Columbia College Chicago and living the life as a starving hip-hop recording artist and professional graphic designer. I can remember when the manifestation of this project was only a thought.
About three years ago, at a grocery store on the West side of Chicago, I saw a vision that I was changing people’s lives by inspiring them. I came to a halt and began reflecting on the environment I was living in at the present time. At this given moment, my spirit was uneasy, due to the fact that I was upset with the ignorance of people in general. I told my business partner Lahad about the vision, and that a pamphlet is needed to provide people with inspiring information that they may not be conscious of. I felt as if this could be the catalyst to address people’s problems and complaints. It was our calling to help “make a difference!” I felt as if I needed to take action and do something about this perpetual epidemic of ignorance that is causing people to destroy themselves and others.
A couple of years later I drew out the conceptual layout of the pamphlet. I never anticipated developing a magazine so early at the beginning of my career. While pursuing and working diligently on many projects in my life, I can say that Consciousness Magazine has been the most challenging, especially pulling together a group of people for a staff that have full time jobs, families, or are college students.
While continuing to reminisce on life over the past several years, I believe that my childhood drove me to start my own business. I always knew that I would someday be an entrepreneur. I consider myself to have noble intentions. I want people to know that there is hope out here. For the longest time I was struggling and I was determined to be a voice for people letting them know that they can overcome all obstacles that may be set in front of them. These days’ people need inspiration, a need I feel that they don’t get satisfied from contemporary media outlets. This belief was shaped by my youth and life experiences.
I was born on the Westside of Chicago. When I was a few years old, my parents moved my siblings, mentally ill uncle, and I to Hopkins Park, Illinois, a poverty stricken rural area. My father being a shade tree carpenter and my mother a house-wife; it was hard for my siblings and I to get some of the things we needed for school and as children. I can recall only having two pair of pants when I was in the fifth grade. Students showed no empathy when they saw me wear clothes back-to-back along with the holes that were noticeable in my shoes. It didn’t bother me. I always knew that I would one day grow into a man and be able to get everything I ever desired. Being blessed with the talents to be a fine artist, I knew that there would be a possible way out of poverty. This belief along with people constantly telling me, at a young age, how important an education is are the key reasons as to why I always wanted to help people change their lives so that they would not have to go through the embarrassment and shame I’ve been through. I didn’t know how I was going to pursue this at such a young age.
I always had a strong family. Like most families, we had our problems. I honor my mother who has “Southern hospitality.” She instilled in her children the importance of values and family at a young age. My siblings and I are all close. We all went to college except my oldest sister who became mentally ill at a young age.
The family encountered a lot of tough times. I lost count of all the times that I can recall our electric being shut off, and going without a house phone for months due to lack of finances to pay the bills. During these conditions it was sometimes difficult for us to meet some of our everyday needs such as eating the necessary foods for a complete diet. The winters were worse but we strived every year to make life better.
Some nights before school, we washed our clothes with our hands. We would hang them up over a fan to dry. On warm days we would leave them to dry on an outdoor clothing line or fence. Also, when the electric was cut off we pumped water from an outside well to supply us with water. We protected and concealed our foods in metal or plastic containers to protect it from the rats and roaches that contributed to the extra holes in the walls and floors of a once condemned home that was progressively renovated by my father.
Since then, a new home has been built due to the fact that our house was burnt to the ground several years ago because of a furnace problem. I can recall there was nearly two feet of snow on the ground during the time of the burning. It was a blessing that everyone made it out safely. This was a difficult time of our life, especially when we had no home insurance. Could you imagine the only thing you owned were the clothes you stood shivering in on a freezing winter day? By the time the fire department arrived to our property, there was only one wall standing. Since then, I learned to not take anything for granted, appreciating life and valuing people to the fullest.
During the time of the fire, I was a student at Kankakee Community College. My grades began to drop. I dropped one class. I felt deprived, feeling as if I had nothing to live for. I basically gave up all hope and faith. I was enrolled in two art classes and also gave up on those. Prior to the burning, I could recall on a daily basis waking up around 3 in the morning to work on art pieces. Sad to say, that drive was no longer there. I now found myself with nothing to do.
While our family was partially living with my Aunt Olivia, I had to plan days ahead to figure out how I was going to commute from Hopkins Park to school four times a week. It became very difficult because I did not have reliable transportation at the time and didn’t know where my next meal or money was going to come from. My parents needed to spend more time running around trying to get life back in order after the fire and the car wasn’t always available to me.
Sometimes I packed extra clothes in my book bag and lived out of it occasionally. Since the college was 20-30 minutes away from Hopkins Park I sometimes stayed with a friend or my sister who lived in Kankakee. Having no place to stay and bouncing from house to house was very detrimental. Nevertheless, I never made any excuses not to go to class. I knew that I had to be in class even if I was discouraged and didn’t do the homework for the next day. Stepping foot in the school always gave me a sense that I was still doing something with my life. I just loved being in a productive atmosphere.
Deep down inside I was angry at the world, wanting a normal life. I would always question myself: “Why am I going through so much hardship?” The influential people in my life such as family, friends, strangers, and my former art instructors helped me to change my negative attitude, and thinking pattern on how I felt about life at the time. This is one of the reasons I hope to give out scholarships, so that I can give someone the opportunity they think they may not have.
As time progressed, God was looking over me as I cried out for help and wanting change. Within music, rather mine or others, I gradually found therapy, spirituality, and a source of healing power. I repetitively played the song “God’s Grace” by the inspirational group Trinity 5:7.
If it wasn’t for my passion for the arts, I may have fallen victim to the influence of taking more to the street life or maybe ended up as another statistical black male in the court system by making uneducated and unwise decisions. Believe me, nothing came easy. If you have a gift you must continue to perfect it. That makes it more rewarding. It kept me out of trouble. As, far as I can remember, I continued to draw, paint, write, record, and take up hobbies, such as collecting sports trading cards to escape my reality. I didn’t know that it was going to have so much of an impact upon my future and the lives of others.
I can recall drawing graphical images at a younger age. During that time, I didn’t know that I was in preparation to earn a B.F.A. in Graphic Design or working on a magazine publication.
Sometimes my life reminds me of the Richard Wright biography “Black Boy.” While Reading this book many years ago I can relate to some of the trials and tribulations he overcame, such as leaving the South and moving to Chicago for a better opportunity to become a successful writer. Along the same lines, I once moved to Chicago to finish college to become a successful artist. Also, when Wright was younger, his house burned down.
I can say that I’ve truly been blessed. Sometimes you may feel that it’s the end of the world as you cope with certain problems or situations. All along, it is happening for a reason. At the same time, we must acknowledge the small details in our life that cause us to have problems. Sometimes we consciously or unconsciously make incorrect decisions, which lead to pain and suffering. In most cases, situations are unpredictable. Work them out, move on, and try to make some sense out of the situation if you can. Don’t dwell on the problem if it can’t be fixed at the moment. Let time take its course. Then go to your favorite relaxation spot like I go to my office. Sit back, reminisce, meditate and appreciate the present moment.
Today, CM has been up and running for almost 2 years. At first there were lots of trials-and-errors we faced which caused the business to fluctuate, grow and later become successful. My sister Mozella Sullivan who has believed in this project have encouraged and stood beside me since day one. She started as a volunteer and later became the Vice President and Co-Publisher. Her task included planning meetings, opening advertising deals, developing editorial strategies and much more. She later started an independent Public Relations Company called C‘lebrity N‘dorser PR, which is a primary media basis for print, radio, television and internet that cover many aspects of the entertainment industry.
I will like to thank The King Maker for publishing our story, the CM staff, contributors and everyone who has given us the opportunity to make this publication possible.
(This article is republished 2005)
Last modified: June 27, 2023