UHV grad finds strength through her many trials
May 12, 2010 at 12:12 a.m.
Updated May 13, 2010 at 12:13 a.m.
Brenda Stephenson has never given up on her two boys, even when they've made wrong choices, she said.
She's not about to give up on at-risk students either, she said.
Stephenson, 54, will graduate Saturday from the University of Houston-Victoria with a Bachelor of Science in Education after going to school on and off since 2003.
She would like to teach at an alternative school or juvenile detention center, and help students make wiser choices about their future.
"I know children are labeled as bad kids," said Stephenson, who grew up in Victoria. "They just made bad choices. I don't want them to slip through the cracks. I want to let them know that there's hope and that I'm not going to give up on them, just like I never gave up on my boys."
Never Giving Up
Stephenson is a pre-kinder teacher aide at DeLeon Elementary School and a cashier at H-E-B Plus in Victoria.
Her passion to work with at-risk students comes from her two sons.
One son, 36-year-old Curtis Barefield, will soon enter a drug rehabilitation center. He has three children, Curtis Jr., 15, Oshae, 13, and Deja, 11.
Yet, she still believes he can change, she said.
"I tell him, 'I'll never give up on you,'" she said. "'You're going to get your life together and I'm going to be right here waiting for you.'"
Her other son, Eric Cook, 19 at the time, was killed in October 2005.
Cook saw a former probation officer in her car in his apartment complex and went to go chat with her. She was there to visit with another client, Stephenson said.
According to a 2005 Advocate article, a Cadillac then pulled up and the driver shot Cook twice on the back.
Cook and the Hallettsville man had gotten into a fight two weeks prior, Stevenson said.
Even now, almost five years later, Stephenson still looks on the bright side of that.
She knows Cook is proud of her.
"The death of my baby - that's with me every day, from the moment I open my eyes in the morning, till the moment I close my eyes," she said. "I just look at the positive. I can just see him watching me. I can hear his voice saying, 'You go mama.'"
Stephenson gathers her strength from many places, such as from God, her husband and her mother, Nora Gipson.
She comes from a family of eight children and was raised by a single mother.
"She's the backbone of this family," Stephenson said. "We didn't have a father figure in my family. She's been both my mother and my father."
Her husband, Eausaw Stephenson, is an elder at the Queen City Church of God in Christ in Victoria. He helped her endure through the hard times.
"Everything she's been through, I've been through," he said. "We've been through all of this together. She's really done a great job about doing it. The strength she had, I didn't think she had it, but she does."
DeLeon principal Selina Reyna said she admires Stephenson's strength.
"Despite the many obstacles in her life, yet she kept her eye on her passion and she never gave up," Reyna said. "She wants the most challenging, the most troublesome students because that's where the rewards are for her. It's almost a calling for her. It's not just a profession."
Josie Rivera, senior program development coordinator for Letting Education Achieve Dreams at UHV, was one of Stephenson's first professors, and has kept in touch with her over the years.
"She has shown with determination and dedication that a person can achieve success in life," Rivera said. "She will be a great teacher and be a good asset to any school campus."
Stephenson, and her sister Cynthia Harris, a social studies teacher at Howell Middle School, are the only two of the eight children in her family to obtain a bachelor's degree.
Stephenson will continue her education even further once she finds a teaching position, as encouraged by Rivera.
"Now, I'll take a breath and move on toward my master's, thanks to Dr. Josie Rivera," Stephenson said.