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My struggle began before I was born. My mom married an abusive man at 15 because she was pregnant with my brother. She believed staying with that man was the right thing to do, but when she was 8 months pregnant with me, he hurt her again. She thought she’d lose me and that was the final straw. She called the police, they arrested him, and my mom, now alone, had two kids to raise. As a high school drop-out, my mom struggled to support us, even working two jobs.

I grew up angry because I couldn’t understand why we struggled. Our household lacked love and affection because survival came first.

When I turned 14, my mom saved enough money to enroll me in dance classes. What began as a way to keep me off the street became something so much more. Dance allowed me to express myself. It was a place for me to connect to a new part of my identity; it was a place for me to thrive.

But there came a point where we couldn’t afford classes anymore. My heart broke. The owner, Cristina Elena Guzman, saw how hard my family worked to earn a living. So she said that in exchange for work at the studio, I could take classes for free. This act of kindness gave me HOPE. She made me feel seen. She shed light to a brighter future I didn’t think was possible.

Cristina pushed me to attend the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts to study dance; I was the only Latina in my class. I graduated and promised to be the best woman I could be to make her proud.

In 2014, I obtained my Associate degree in Respiratory Care. In 2015, I enlisted in the U.S. Army. In 2018, I earned my Bachelor’s degree in business. Today, I’m a Realtor, living a life I couldn’t have imagined all those years ago. And Cristina has continued to support me. Her unconditional trust made me realize what a blessing she continues to be.

There are no words to express my gratitude.

I heard Bobby’s story at the Bunker Labs National Meeting—his upbringing was full of struggle like mine and his speech touched my heart. Our similar experiences reinforced in me that our stories aren’t set in stone; they’re written by us. And sometimes one person’s act of kindness can set a new trajectory in motion.

Sharing Your Gift

For other people in the midst of their struggle, I encourage you to surround yourself with people who inspire you—people who are role models. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help and allow people to help you. The truth is, no one can do it on their own.

Today, I’m willing to open up and give people a chance. Damage can be healed. Forgiveness is a virtue. And kindness towards those around you comes after you reflect on your story, then empathize with others.

 

Looking Forward

I am now a successful Realtor at Keller Williams. I have been with the company for a year now, and business is growing. I continue to do business with the wonderful Cristina Elena Guzman, who first helped me grow my business. I’m grateful that Cristina took a chance on me—the Rookie Realtor of the Year—and it made me realize that life is all about people who are willing to take a chance on you, and it’s important to return the favor. Pay it forward.

I now volunteer for a non-profit organization called Bunker Labs and am the operations city leader of the Philadelphia chapter. Bunker Labs helps veterans and veteran spouses grow their business through mentorship, advice, and resources. These rookies in business need people to take a chance on them too. That’s what I intend to do, and I want to grow this movement by helping connect other aspiring professionals with people who will help them transform to the person they want to become.

2 Comments

  1. Gavino Zarate

    I really enjoyed Josalyn’s story. One person can make a difference, and for her it was her mom paying for the dance class, and then Cristina. Amazing!! Your struggles resound so much for me as a teacher. Thank you for sharing. FYI, I grew up with Bobby and I knew he would do well in life, and make a positive contribution.

    Reply
    • Bobby Herrera

      Thank you so much Gavino! Josalyn is definitely an inspiration!

      Reply

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