Student turns life from troubles to triumphs

By Thunderword Staff

Highline student and Latinx Club President Erika Juarez-Ramos is on track to graduate this summer and is transferring to the University of Washington- Tacoma to obtain her bachelor's degree in social welfare.

However, it was not so long ago when her focus was simple survival.

"My biggest struggles have been with domestic violence, assault, drug addiction and rape," said Juarez-Ramos.

Many of the issues, like drug addiction and domestic violence, stemmed from Juarez-Ramos' family.

"My dad would beat my mom relentlessly," Juarez-Ramos said. "Those images in my head of my mom all bloodied up like that is something I can never forget."

At 13 years, old, Juarez-Ramos' brother got involved with gangs and drugs.

"My brother messed with my life a lot," Juarez-Ramos said. "He was 13 when he got addicted to hard drugs and into gangs."

Jaurez- Ramos said her brother's addiction to drugs like meth eventually made him violent and irritable.

"His addiction got much worse in high school," Juarez-Ramos said. "He was getting scarier and scarier to be around,"

Eventually, threats of suicide and overdosing followed, requiring Juarez-Ramos to leave school behind.

"I had to skip school to take care of him, to make sure he didn't die," she said.

At this time, Juarez-Ramos' brother was also in and out of trouble with the law for his gang and drug involvement.

"My parents didn't speak great English. So, in middle school I was the translator for when my brother got in trouble with the law," said Juarez-Ramos. "I got to know the criminal justice system at a very young age."

Ultimately, the absence from school and a dysfunctional home life took its toll on Juarez-Ramos.

"I became very depressed and tried to commit suicide three times," Juarez-Ramos said. "When I was 16, I finally decided it was too much and left home."

For the next two years, Juarez-Ramos lived in her car, moving around from various park and rides.

"I didn't even have a blanket, so I would use my spare clothes. I stacked them over me in a pile," Juarez-Ramos said. "I would see all kinds of things in those park and rides. I saw drug deals, prostitution, and robberies. I was only, what, 16 at the time."

During this period, despite limited resources, Juarez-Ramos continued to peruse her education.

"I was going to regular high school, taking online courses to make up credits, and attending PSSC [Puget Sound Skills Center]," Juarez-Ramos said. "I realized the cycle at my house was so toxic and I wanted to break that cycle. I felt education was the only way to break that."

Puget Sound Skills Center is an alternative specialization school, where students can take courses specific to their career interest while in high school.

"I did the criminal justice program at PSSC," Juarez-Ramos said. "I felt I was really good with criminal justice since I had dealt with the law at an early age. It was the one class I felt I knew everything."

Juarez-Ramos said her dream was once to be a police officer, but that her participation through skills center helped her see an alternate career.

"Because of the program, I realized I wanted to help the victims instead of going after the criminals," Juarez-Ramos. "That is where my spark began."

"I want to be a victim's advocate and work with at-risk youth," Juarez-Ramos said. "I know I want to work with youth because that is when I went through my hardest time in life. I feel I can relate to them and offer them more than adults."

After graduating high school with a 2.1 GPA and being declined admittance to the University of Washington- Tacoma, her dream school, Juarez-Ramos enrolled at Highline.

"At the time, I wasn't accepted because of my grades," Juarez-Ramos said. "Now, two years later, I have a 3.8 GPA and will be attending UWT this fall."

For many years, Juarez-Ramos said she kept her struggles to herself, ashamed of what people would think. Without opportunities to find a community, she only prolonged her suffering.

"Silence is a powerful thing, but it is also very deadly," Juarez-Ramos said. "The mindset that being silent is better needs to be broken."

Looking back, Juarez-Ramos attributes her current success at Highline and motivations to her ability to be open.

"I realized that by speaking up about your story and opening up to others, you find other people who have suffered, people that you can relate to," Juarez-Ramos said.

As an involved student at Highline and in the community, Juarez-Ramos has strived to help herself and others grow.

"I am now president of LatinX. I am one of five students selected by Highline to attend the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in New Orleans. I have held a know your rights event for the community and those that are undocumented. I have held fundraisers for those that are in need, like the earthquake victims in Mexico," Juarez-Ramos said. "I am proud of how far I have come."

Juarez-Ramos offers advice to any students who may be struggling.

"My biggest advice would be to not be ashamed of your story," Juarez-Ramos said. "Your story defines who you are and where you are today, regardless if you want the experience or not."

Juarez-Ramos urges students not to give up, despite past errors in life.

"The future is ultimately determined on the actions you take now," Juarez-Ramos said. "You can either remain in the cycle or break it and be different."

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