Hannah Kemble, a senior at Mother of Mercy High School who is planning to attend The Ohio State University next year, recently received a Scholastic Art & Writing award in the personal essay/memoir category. She won an honorable mention for “In Different Shoes” based on her experience playing the role of Samantha in the 2015 Friends of Children Breakfast video story. You can read her essay below and see her portrayal here.
I sat on a brick wall in an unfamiliar part of town, digging my toes into the dirt, nervously fidgeting with my hands. I was being filmed, playing the part of Samantha, but the reason I felt so uneasy was that Samantha was a real young woman who had walked in this neighborhood, been abused by everyone she had trusted, become addicted to drugs at a young age and given up. As I portrayed Samantha, I began to understand the uncontrolled spiral of her life. ProKids, an agency in Cincinnati which advocates for abused and neglected children, was putting the video together for their annual benefit.
I had helped the organization a few years ago by collecting clothes for a girl my age who had just moved into a new foster home. But, this video project had a much larger impact on my life and the many children it benefited. Filming the more difficult and emotional scenes in the rougher areas of town, I took on Samantha’s persona and walked in her painful shoes for a few hours each day. When I sat in a wheelchair outside the hospital with a newborn, I felt forsaken. Family and friends didn’t accompany me, I had no balloons, cards or gifts to congratulate me, and I had no ride home. I felt violated when the actor playing Samantha’s boyfriend shoved me into the street. I knew that nobody should ever be treated in such a manner, but I also knew that Samantha didn’t understand her worth and the way she deserved to be treated. Walking into the classroom acting high on drugs, I felt worthless and beyond receiving help. I simply didn’t care about my health, my appearance or the fact that my life was in a downward spiral and I couldn’t control it. Above all, I felt hopeless.
I was then grateful to return home to my safe, nurturing family following each filming session. However, I continually reminded myself that the scenes were not pretend, but were parts of Samantha’s horrific past. Samantha never had a safe place to return to after a long day. Before I took part in the project, I was unaware of the severity of the lasting effects of child abuse and that it happens just miles away from my home. I blindly assumed that everyone had blissful childhoods like that of my own. Throughout this project, my heart was changed and my eyes were opened to the heinous reality of abuse. I experienced solidarity with all who had endured unfair childhoods and became more empathetic toward them.
Through my contributions to ProKids, I took a stance against child abuse. However, my experiences helping children in abusive homes and in the foster care system are not over. After glimpsing into Samantha’s past, I will try to never judge another person by his or her looks, addictions and choices again because everyone has a story. The generations of Samantha’s family caught in the vicious cycle of abuse made Samantha a victim of her circumstances. There are many reasons people can’t escape abusive situations. Although Samantha turned her life around, many aren’t willing to get help and go through the painful processes including drug and alcohol withdrawal. Others don’t recognize they need help because abuse and addictions are all they have ever known. To free a child from the cycle of abuse and neglect is a much more difficult task than I had ever imagined before digging deeper into Samantha’s story. However, I have the power to raise awareness about child abuse, to give people the benefit of the doubt instead of judging them, and to be approachable for people in abusive situations who are crying for help. Although diminishing child abuse in the world is virtually impossible, advocating for one neglected or abused child at a time is possible.