He overcame it all by being himself

After enduring years of verbal abuse, mental abuse, and bullying, senior Phillip Meadows tells how being confident in himself was the key to overcoming his obstacles and achieving his goals.

On+Monday%2C+April+8%2C+2019%2C+senior+Phillip+Meadows+%28left%29%2C+received+a+rank+promotion.+He+is+pictured+with+his+major%2C+Jeffrey+Dorman.+Meadows+has+been+a+cadet+in+the+Air+Force+Junior+Reserve+Officer+Training+Corps+%28AFJROTC%29+throughout+all+four+years+of+high+school.

Photo provided by Phillip Meadows

On Monday, April 8, 2019, senior Phillip Meadows (left), received a rank promotion. He is pictured with his major, Jeffrey Dorman. Meadows has been a cadet in the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) throughout all four years of high school.

By Jahlea Douglas, Elkhart Memorial High School

“I was abandoned first at 8 months old.”

As a child, especially as a baby, we are innocent— we only know how to express simple emotions: crying when we are hungry, in pain, or needing a diaper change and smiling and laughing when another person plays with us. 

Furthermore, as babies we visit lots of people. As expected, everyone is so eager to see us, especially our mother and father. But for senior Phillip Meadows, the unexpected happened. One day, it wasn’t his mother’s face he saw, instead—it was his grandma’s. 

“I was abandoned first at eight months old. My mother didn’t want me anymore. She left me at my grandma’s house,” Phillip said.

This was just the beginning. At the time, Phillip’s grandma could not care for him, so within a few weeks, he was moved around again. This time, to his aunt and uncle’s, the worst move yet. 

After getting legal guardianship over Phillip, his aunt and uncle cared for him throughout most of his childhood, but not in the way that nurturing, loving parents would, especially as he grew older.

 “I was mentally abused. They would tell me I wasn’t smart and push me down as much as they could my whole life,” Phillip said.

As a family who has struggled with mental health and addiction, they tried to push their struggles on Phillip, teaching him that this was the life he was going to live because that is how it had been for generations. 

But one person changed it all for him. At age eight, Phillip’s cousin’s girlfriend, Lily, would come and pick him up and take him out to eat. 

“She would show me that there was more in the world than what I could see [at the time],” Phillip said. 

This relationship allowed Phillip to gain hope that there was a better life beyond what his family was showing him. 

While Lily was building the foundation of hope for Phillip, his family was doing the opposite, and it only got worse when he revealed his biggest “secret” to them. 

Three months after coming out as gay to his aunt and uncle, they turned on him, punishing and isolating him.

“I had to learn to be independent and learn to cook for myself,” Phillip said. “I didn’t know how to cook for myself, so I really ate pork and beans and pancakes all the time because I didn’t know how to cook anything else.”

It was late summer about a month and a half away from Phillip’s 14th birthday and his aunt and uncle had had enough. Phillip and his guardians were heading to his grandma’s house in a blue three door GMC truck. After some time on the road, Phillip needed something to drink.  

“I was thirsty. I really needed water,” Phillip said.

His aunt and uncle pulled into a 7-Eleven and sent Phillip in with a few dollars, just enough to buy a bottle of water.

“I came out and they were gone,” Phillip said.

His guardians had left him stranded at a gas station alone at thirteen years old. 

“I was so shocked and scared. My genetic sister found out and she told him [her boyfriend at the time, Brian] and he immediately picked me up,” Phillip said. 

Once Phillip got picked up, the first stop was Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) because at the time, his aunt and uncle were living in a hotel and would not buy food for him to eat. 

“He took me to KFC and I ate and ate. I ate a lot that day and then he took me to his house and he did the proper thing and called CPS [Child Protective Services],” Phillip said.

“I call him my dad because he’s been a dad to me more than anything else.” 

Brian would play a more critical piece in Phillip’s life than either ever realized at the time.

Senior, Phillip Meadows (bottom right), and his family gather together. Phillip lives with his dad, Brian (top left) and his grandma (top right). Also pictured is his brother, Brandon (bottom left) and his sister, Amanzis (bottom middle). Photo provided by Phillip Meadows

Upon notifying CPS of Phillip’s situation, they said they would help, but they asked if Brian could care for Phillip for a few days. 

“My guardian said, ‘Figure out the problem’ and they said, ‘We’ll do what you want with him.’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I will take him.’ and ‘There’s no way he is going to go somewhere else,’” Phillip said.

After being abandoned and mentally abused, Phillip finally had a home and a father. After filing the necessary paperwork, Brian became Phillips’ guardian. Today, Phillip lives with Brian and his grandmother.

Phillip considers them the perfect role models as they have taught him simple things like how to properly clean and how to take care of day-to-day essential tasks.

“I looked up to my grandma and my dad. They were there for me,” Phillip said. “They have a good life and they know what they’re doing.”

“I thought that being gay was kind of bad, so I kept it to myself.”

After being abandoned numerous times, going from home to  home, there was no time to develop or practice simple skills like socializing. This left Phillip friendless throughout elementary school until one girl brought him out of his shell in fifth grade. 

“The first day I sat down in class and she sat right next to me and started talking to me and I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ I was literally thinking: ‘Who is this person?  I don’t know them. I don’t know how to talk to people.’ I didn’t have socialization skills,” Phillip said.

This fifth grade girl taught him basic things about how to be a friend, how to make friends, and eventually, Phillip had friends like everyone else. But there was something about him nobody knew and it held him back from being his complete self. 

 “At 12 I realized that if I wanted to get anywhere in life, I had to be comfortable with myself,” Phillip said. “So I started talking to myself about it and I grew confidence. Now, I am comfortable with myself and there is nothing wrong with being the way I am.”

After building courage, Phillip came out to his best friend at the time, allowing him to be himself with at least one person and eventually everyone else. 

“Until someone outed me.”

During that funky, transitional stage at the end of sixth grade and throughout middle school, things are better to be kept between a tight group of friends because one peep to anyone else and the entire school knows our deepest and darkest secrets. 

Being gay means being “different” from others and not everyone knows how to react, so some kids resort to bullying. It was the consistent and harsh bullying that forced Phillip to walk to school.

“They would pull my headphones out of my ears just to taunt me and they broke every pair I had,” Phillip said. “So, I kept having to buy more pairs, and eventually I started walking to school. It was the only thing I could do because I didn’t know how else to handle it.” 

While middle school was rough, the transition to high school was a positive move for Phillip as the new environment made him more confident.

“I am better than what they thought I was going to be.”

On Wednesday, March 4, Phillip Meadows (right), receives his manager certification at McDonald’s. Meadows has been an employee at McDonald’s for almost three years. Photo provided by Phillip Meadows

After years and years of verbal and mental abuse from family members at home, Phillip also had to endure the pain of being bullied at school, but he overcame all of it by just being himself. 

“If you are not who you are, then you are not showing the real you. I feel that if you want to be happy, then you have to be you at all times,” Phillip said.

That’s exactly why on a normal day-to-day basis, one can see Phillip dancing and singing around the halls being himself, the person he could never be when he was younger. 

“You can call me whatever you want. It doesn’t matter to me because I’m not hearing it. I’m listening to my music. Leave me alone,” Phillip said. 

Throughout high school, Phillip has been actively involved in the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) which was offered for the first time at Elkhart Memorial his freshman year. Through AFJROTC he has been a member of two different programs: the drill and color guard teams and the raider team. 

Phillip also has been instrumental in motivating his fellow cadets during our physical training sessions. Phillip was the first cadet at Memorial to receive the Military Order Of World Wars Medal during his first year.”

— Senior Master Sergeant Scott Rutledge

Furthermore, this year, Phillip has the role of the unit logistics manager, he is responsible for the organization and accountability of everything in the AFJROTC unit inventory. 

Upon graduation, Phillip will leave the AFJROTC program with the distinction of a Cadet Senior Master Sergeant. These promotions are earned through testing and performance in the classroom.

“I am so proud of the cadet and person Phillip has become, and I am very glad he decided to stay with and help build this amazing program at Memorial into what it has become and what it will be in the future,” Rutledge said. 

Additionally, Phillip has been involved in Tech Club since the beginning of this school year.

“Tech club is my favorite club because I really like technology,” Phillip said. “I am the event planner. If there is an event, then I see how many people are coming and make sure we have everything in place.”

After graduation, Phillip plans to attend a community college to pursue his passion in technology by earning tech certificates that will be valuable in his future career. 

“I pushed through it and I persevered and knew that I was worth something to myself, and no matter what, I am going to be worth something,” Phillip said.

This story was originally published on GENESIS on May 16, 2020.