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Denise Smith's picture

“Never start a fight, but you better finish it.” My mother drilled this message home to my siblings and me, and it’s the same instruction I’ve given to all three of my birth children, and now my great niece that I am adopting. Basically, it means not to get in trouble or pick with others but to make sure that if someone is bullying you that you give them something to remember, and to think twice about ever doing it again!

My niece who is seven years old would call these bullies “miscreants” – a recent addition to a vocabulary that is ever expanding. Aaliyah Jessica Smith despite being born with drugs in her system and to parents who abuse (one, drugs and the other, people and circumstances) is resilient, personable, funny, beautiful, creative, smart and advanced beyond her years. Her grasp of language is just one example of her blooming capacity, and sometimes her use of words and ability to mimic can be horrifying; like the time she came to a training we were conducting. During clean-up one of the adults on the team did something out of turn to which Aaliyah replied, “You tried it!” – sassiness and all.  Well, she got into trouble for that one, but you see what I mean. . . .

While many often tell me that Aaliyah is so lucky to have me in her life, I would be remiss not to mention how very fortunate I am to be raising her. Aaliyah has gifted me the opportunity to nurture and develop a fourth child using life experiences from raising my own three children – who turned out pretty good by the way, combined with the knowledge I’ve gained from my studies and life-work in early childhood development and education. 

I am a staunch believer that investing in young children pays off in dividends unmeasured. I state this with a conviction that stems not only from what I’ve learned, but from what I have experienced, particularly with Aaliyah. No one can persuade me that any child, despite his or her place or circumstance of birth, cannot succeed; be the marvel for which she was uniquely designed. Aaliyah is proof of that and reminds me daily of the truth in a motto I wrote for an early head start program years ago:

Investing in the development of young children creates life images. . .

The tapestry that he or she makes

Begins with every day moments we provide.


Denise Smith

Detroit, MI



Denise L. Smith

Vice President
Excellent Schools Detroit

"Take two sets of notes. . . You have to expose yourself to a broader set of information beyond the propaganda being taught. . . History is a map that tells people where they've been and where they should go." - Akala


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