Dr. Elaine Richardson went from living in the ghetto to receiving her Ph.D from Michigan State University.
Richardson specializes in linguistic education and human ecology at Ohio State University and is an expert in linguistic diversity. At the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Black Student Union’s 22nd Annual Soul Food Dinner, Richardson delivered an emotional account of events that lead up to her passion for linguistic diversity.
Richardson wrote “PHD to Ph.D: How Education Saved my Life” which she described as an urban educational memoir. PHD is slang for,”poor ho on dope.”
“My book talks about how I was addicted to street life, and how I could have died a million times,” Richardson said.
Between age 13 and 24, Richardson worked with four different pimps and felt like she could not escape street life.
In her early twenties, Richardson was in prison 200 times. Her life changed after she saw a flyer for Project Second Chance, an organization which helped sexually exploited girls and women get off the streets and receive an education.
Richardson was with the program, but failed many times to do what she was told in order to succeed. It was not until Richardson’s second child was born, she realized she had change.
“I didn’t want to go back to that life,” Richardson said. “I felt like I was going to get killed or kill myself.”
When Richardson enrolled at Cleveland State University, she began to discover her culture because she learned about Creole language and black dialect. She gained confidence and before she knew it, she received A’s in her classes, tutored students with black and Asian dialects and was graduating.
Richardson became empowered and knew she was going to make an impact in people’s lives. After graduation, she continued to grow and discovered her own self-worth through working with Dr. Geneva Smitherman, director of the African American Language and Literacy Program at Michigan State University.
Richardson wrote her memoir because she knew many people who did not believe in their own self-worth and thought an education was unobtainable.
Dr. Mary Weems, Richardson’s colleague and former Poet Laureate of Cleveland Hights, cried when she read the manuscript.
“I thought of all the women I’d encountered during my life who’d died there,” Weems said. “As one of the first to read the manuscript, I knew immediately, not only did this book belong out in the world, but that once it was, it would change lives.”
Richardson has plenty of advice for students. She said a person must invest in themselves to reach their full potential.
“What I mean by that is you got to fill your head with good thoughts about yourself,” Richardson said.
Investing in oneself includes not being surrounded by negative people. Richardson advocated losing self-hating or limiting thoughts and replacing them with a passion.
“You got to reprogram your mind,” Richardson said. “Learn as much as you can about the things you love that motivate you.”
Rika Calvin, president of the Black Student Union, heard about Richardson through her adviser Madam Beverley David who attended Richardson’s talks.
“I feel like students of every ethnicity and background can relate to her,” Calvin said.
Akua Duku, Richardson’s colleague and associate professor at Arizona State University, said Richardson has an almost spiritual understanding of the individuals she interacts with.
“She has the insights of the troubles that people can experience, and how they can overcome them,” Duku said.
Richardson has spoken at prisons, high schools, women’s groups and human trafficking conferences. She said it was rewarding because it touched the attendees souls.
“I’m telling my story to all kinds of people who may not have been in human trafficking, may not be black, may not be a woman, may not have been raped or on drugs,” Richardson said. “But, there’s something deeper, something spiritual, that causes pain and growth in our spirits that links out stories together.”