Ehi Aimiuwu

Ehi Aimiuwu

“After high school, I wanted to do something related to tech. I ended up going to Prairie State College. I already had one kid at the time. I ended up dropping out because I got into a really bad relationship.”

“The relationship ended up causing both of us to be homeless. I was in and out of shelters. It ended eventually with a really bad situation where DCFS had to get involved, and I had to make a decision for myself to save myself and my kids.”

“I went to a domestic violence shelter in Joliet. That period was a low point in my life. I was pregnant with my third child. Two weeks after she was born, my father passed. My father never got a chance to meet my daughter. It was a really low point for me.”

“Fast forward from there, I tried to get back on my feet. I tried starting different businesses, I tried all kinds of stuff and it was just falling apart.”

“We were living on 78th and Union and, I hate to word it this way, but it was basically a squatter house. I didn’t know it was a squatter house. And I was finding work through Craigslist, braiding hair.”

“I had my phone, a generic version of a Blackberry, and I would post pictures of hair I had done on a Tumblr site and then on Craigslist.”

“Then as people would text and call, I would either have them meet me at this house I was staying in or I would literally scoop up my kids, hop on the bus, go to the client’s house and braid hair.”

“I was traveling all day, every day for the hairstyles I was doing. It wasn’t like a two-hour hair salon and I’m done. It was six, eight, 12 hours that I was doing hair and that was my day to day.”

“We needed so much back then. I didn’t know that I could apply for food stamps, because it seemed like I was constantly having to jump over hurdles. There’s a stigma that if you have any kind of income coming in, you wouldn’t qualify. I thought I wouldn’t qualify.”

“A lot of friends I know from back then, they won’t go for bigger jobs. They’ll purposely go for minimum wage jobs because Section 8 is on the line and food stamps are on the line and insurance is on the line.”

“So, I did hair for a year or two. And my body was falling apart. I was starting to get arthritis, and my hand would cramp up in the middle of hair braiding.”

“Then while I was looking through Craigslist, I saw an ad for i.c. stars. ‘Do you like creativity? Do you like computers? Do you like tech?’ In that wheelhouse.”

“I went ahead and applied. But through the interview process, I was just questioning everything. I had spent so long in and out of shelters, just trying to survive, hustling for money, constantly thinking about where the next paycheck is going to come from. To switch my mindset to actually working for a corporation, I didn’t quite see it yet.”

“When you’re in survivor mode, you go through a lot of blame. You blame yourself. You think ‘If I would have just finished that degree at Prairie State. If I would have finished that CNA work that I did. If I would’ve done the EMT thing.’”

“In the interview process, my method was to just be honest. Honest with where I’m at, honest with what I’m thinking. Tell them the truth and see where that goes. And I got into the program.”

“Right at the beginning it was a huge challenge. I had to really question, ‘Am I determined to make this happen? Am I sick and tired of being sick and tired?’ And I definitely was. I had no other support. I had to make this work.”

“Besides the training, i.c. stars provided emotional support, almost like some type of parental guidance. That was big for me, because my father had passed and I didn’t have a really good relationship with the rest of my family.”

“One thing they told us was to think about what we could do for our community. At the time, that shocked me. Because the truth is when you’re homeless, when you have nothing, it feels like your community has failed you. I never even thought about having something to contribute to the community.”

“They did workshops that made you rethink how you live your daily life, how you depend on other people, your position in life and how you got there. I worked through some of that blame.”

“During the program, it was like I was in this protective box. But when I graduated, I was still dealing with insecurities of not having that degree.”

“I went into my interviews realizing they’re human, I’m human. I’m just going to tell the truth of what I know and what I don’t know.”

“I got accepted to my dream job with an international company that did training abroad. I spent five weeks training in Pune, India. My God, that was when my life changed forever. Forever. I had never flown before.”

“Before the i.c. stars program, I was bringing in about $12,000 a year. After graduating, my salary was $58,000. Then I moved on to another job where I made $87,000 and today it’s more than that.”

“That first shift was huge. You can’t believe the relief you get when you see the paycheck and it covers rent, it covers food and it has extra. The amount of relief you see is just beautiful. For so long you’ve struggled and you’ve struggled and you don’t see the end.”

“Today I run my own company, Geek Empowered, which deals with digital media and marketing. I also have a part-time position at i.c. stars as a program manager.”

“I was raised thinking that once you’re in college, you’re all set. I didn’t think that people who are college-bound could be homeless. But literally anything could happen to put you in that position. A relationship, or the loss of a job.  It’s especially hard for single mothers. It can happen to anybody.”

Ehi Aimiuwu
Founder, Geek Empowered
Chicago, Illinois

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