At age 31, Summer Owens has accomplished more than many young women her age. She’s a college graduate, an MBA, a book author, a motivational speaker — and the mother of a teenage son. She became pregnant at 15 by a man she didn’t even know, the casualty of date rape. She could have let that unexpected event derail her dreams.
But Summer doesn’t let obstacles stand in her way.
In her book Life After Birth , she details the challenges she’s had to overcome as a teenage mother. She’s met with success largely because she’s worked hard to earn it. Although along the way, she’s had her share of heartache, too. Following the shocking discovery that she’d become pregnant after her first sexual encounter, she struggled to accept the life growing inside her, a life she initially didn’t want. She often blamed herself for not better resisting the man’s advances, sharing what happened with only her closest friends.
“But once I saw my child’s heartbeat, my son became real,” she says. During that time, she and her mother fought, so Summer went to live with her grandmother, someone could provide the support and encouragement she needed.
DETERMINED TO RISE
Despite being pregnant, she set her sites on attending college and bore down on her studies after her son Jaylan was born. Eventually, Summer graduated eighth in her senior high class of 300, all while holding down a part-time hostessing job and caring for her son. Her studiousness and volunteer work earned her an Emerging Leaders scholarship at the University of Memphis, an accomplishment she was proud of. But on the one day she looked forward to celebrating her victory, fate again dealt a harsh blow.
“Three years to the day after the incident that resulted in my pregnancy, I participated in an awards day program with my graduating class,” she writes. “In spite of the happy occasion, it was the anniversary of the rape, and it was also my 18th birthday. Throughout the day, I relived the sadness and wondered, ‘How different would my life be if I had never entered that room or if I had left when he came in or if I had screamed when he touched me.’”
She tried to quiet her thoughts by focusing on the announcements, her anticipation building as the principal got closer and closer to her name. At last, the boy next to her stood up. She would be next, she thought, and she waited — for what seemed like an eternity. And then, nothing. Despite months of hard work, despite earning a full college scholarship, the principal omitted her name from the ceremony.
Summer sat with her fellow honorees, stunned.
When she later found the school guidance counselor, she asked why her name hadn’t been on the list, “I received a scholarship, but I didn’t get called out
today. What happened?” she implored. The woman simply patted her on the back and said, “I’m not sure. But the important thing is that you got one.”
The sting of that stigma — again. Still, Summer promised herself she would rise to the occasion, and prove people wrong. “It doesn’t matter that I had a child as a teen, what matters is that I have achieved despite having a child as a teen,” she says.
Throughout the book, Summer writes honestly about her life. There is no self-pity here, just a note at the end of each chapter of lessons learned: the importance of perseverance, of believing in yourself, of working hard to achieve your goals, of fostering patience and passion.
REACHING OUT TO OTHERS
She decided to write her memoir as a way of encouraging other teen mothers to move towards their dreams. She mentors girls in the Memphis City School’s Adolescent Parenting Program and through that work, “I’ve learned compassion for teen moms. I’ve learned not to focus on how they got there but how they manage. I want to encourage them, and let them know that it is possible to go through school and make a life for yourself.
“I had a dream to go to college,” she says. “I didn’t sit around feeling sorry for myself. I didn’t ask someone else to do my work. I had to move, every day. And every person who ever showed interest in me, who wanted to help me, I shared with them my dream.” Summer graduated with a BBA from the U of M where she was named Miss University of Memphis 2001. She went on to earn her MBA from Belhaven College.
Today, Summer works as a senior marketing specialist for FedEx, but she hasn’t stopped dreaming. She plans to continue her work with teen mothers and hopes, in five years, to be in a position to make a greater impact. As for her son Jaylan, “I feel like we’ve grown up together,” says Summer. “It’s been good and bad. I did decide when my grandma said, ‘He can be your brother,’ to say no. If I gave birth to him, then I’m going to be his mother. And he’s proud of what I’ve accomplished.”