These days Tiffany Blalock has an office in the Inman building where she can see students streaming past between classes. She helps build schedules for about 650 of those studying nursing at Belmont as a program assistant. But in March 2016, her surroundings looked much different. She was pulled over with four other folks in the car. There were drugs and guns present—and Tiffany’s son too. It landed her in jail with a felony and later in rehab.
It’s a story that surely wouldn’t be easy to tell. But Tiffany, as an agent of hope, shares her journey of transformation as living proof that people and situations can change.
“I think it’s important to give people hope, because someone is struggling with the same human emotion and human feeling that we all go through that they’re not talking about,” she said. “It takes a diverse community. If just one type of person was leading or guiding us, we would have one type of mindset…I need different perspectives than my own.”
In her younger years, Tiffany says she was exposed to many environments, varied points of view weren’t readily available at home. Her mother struggled with addiction and the family moved around a lot. “I probably went to 30 different schools,” she said. “I always did really well in school because home life was so rocky.”
She ended up, however, on a similar path as her mother until she took the opportunity to change direction.
Tiffany came to Nashville about three years ago to a recovery community. Though she had worked in home health out of high school, the felony conviction kept her from those jobs. “I can’t work in a nursing home,” she said, “probably can’t even drive an ice cream truck.” And while she could find jobs in food service or construction, for example, her record often kept her from growth in those areas. Even if supervisors complimented her work, a promotion would stop short at corporate. “The ceiling was so low for me,” she said. She wanted to find a way to move beyond it – to find something more meaningful to her. A friend knew of a program she thought could help.
Tiffany entered a six-week training at UpRise Nashville, a nonprofit career development center. “I was open and willing,” Tiffany said. “They just saw something in me I didn’t necessarily see in myself.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Olivia Bahemuka, assistant professor of nursing at Belmont, learned about UpRise through her church. Inspired by the organization’s vision, she spoke with UpRise Executive Director Carole Peterson about how she might help through her work at Belmont. Peterson, however, was more focused in the moment on finding a good job for a bright student who needed an opportunity—Tiffany.
“I believe in second chances,” Dr. Bahemuka said. “Because I believe that’s what God has done for every one of us. It’s basically the grace of God that has taken me through. I thought, ‘Wow, we gotta do something.’”
Soon after meeting Carole, Dr. Bahemuka heard of an open position in the nursing department. She knew it required a bachelor’s degree, which Tiffany does not have. And yet, Dr. Bahemuka—who was not involved in the hiring—thought going through an interview experience, at the very least, could be helpful.
Tiffany completed the process and was initially offered a temporary position. When it came time to do so, she explained the circumstances of her felony conviction before a background check. “The next day or maybe two days later,” Tiffany recalled, “(the hiring manager) called me and said I want to rescind the offer – and offer you a salaried, full-time position.”
Shortly afterward, Dr. Bahemuka was notified by Dr. Martha Buckner who let her know that the job offer was made to Tiffany because she was the best candidate of all those they interviewed.
“We all have a responsibility to respond to our surroundings,” Dr. Bahemuka said. “It wasn’t in my power to do anything but to be available and to talk with Carole about the position.”
For Tiffany’s part, she kept her eyes and heart open to opportunities and found strength through her vulnerability.
“I would say, ‘Hey I’m not feeling like I can do this. I’m not sure if I’m gonna be accepted. I’m not sure if I fit into the office type of workplace,’” she recalled. “Through that honesty, I was able to get feedback.” Rather than just tell her she was worthy, the folks at Uprise showed her it was true. They said, “here’s what we see.” It held more weight, Tiffany says, to hear examples of what they witnessed every day in her work and accomplishments—from showing up and working hard to passing the certification test. “They started pointing out the evidence to me.”
Tiffany said she appreciates UpRise for many reasons. “They meet you where you are and never made me feel like a charity case,” she said. “They encouraged me to do something that would make sense in this world, but also be something I could see myself doing. And I needed that encouragement, because honestly, I never saw myself doing anything but what I’d always done.”
These days Tiffany tries to pay it forward by helping other women in a recovery program, though it’s not easy as she had a sponsee die of an overdose recently. And yet she continues to find community as a powerful vehicle for hope.
“I’ve got a light at my feet and try to just see where I’m going in that one step,” she said. “It’s the community, hope, faith and trust that gets me to the next steps I can’t see.”
As for her family, she has a son who has been adopted. “The consequences of my lifestyle and my choices made that happen. I made it happen. I have communication with his adopted mom,” she said. And as for her own mother, she died about six years ago. “She didn’t take the opportunity to get clean and find a new way to live, and she never got to see me do that either.”
And yet, she has reconnected with a sister who she had lost touch with during her active addiction. Her sister gave her an angel that sits on her desk. It’s printed with these words: “May you give yourself permission to trust your voice, step into your power and know that what you’re doing matters.”
Video submitted by UpRise.