My name is Dreylin Lattimore. I was born in Atlanta, Georgia into violence and chaos. I first experienced homelessness as a baby. It was hard to find a place called home as far back as I can remember when I lived in Georgia. As I grew up, my eyes saw some unimaginable things. I wish I could erase some of the memories imprinted in my mind.
I never knew my Dad and most of the men that came in my life were out to hurt me or use me.
As I grew up in the inner city, my life became harder and harder. Atlanta became more intense and it was difficult to see past one day or a moment sometimes. The gangs were big where I lived and almost impossible not to join, if only for protection. I learned to hide as best as I could from this world but it hunts you down. I wasn’t a kid anymore, I couldn’t tuck myself in a small room, I had to face the world I was in. I had to become hard, which is something I wasn’t.
The school was a breeding ground for drugs, gangs, and violence. I was distracted all the time. I needed extra help with almost every subject and I couldn’t concentrate. I was being bullied and had to keep my head up all the time to try and stay safe. It was very hard to learn in most of my classes.
For a couple of years, football was my outlet, but I could never escape my reality. I thought maybe I could trust the players on my team but I quickly discovered the guys on my football team were drug dealers, users, and gang members. I don’t know anyone in the environment that I lived in that did not have to turn into something they were not. It’s hard to explain how you have to create this hard shell or you won’t survive. You won’t make it if you aren’t tough. You don’t even realize you’re training yourself not to feel anything. This is where I lived and today, many of my friends and family continue to try and survive. I pray for them every day.
The year I turned 14, my world was becoming a nightmare, and staying alive became my only goal. Everywhere I turned I was faced with trouble and dread. My brother was in a gang that pulled me into a dark, dark world. I could barely put one foot in front of the other and I couldn’t trust anyone to have my back. You have to grow up real quick where I come from. Somewhere deep down I knew this life was not my destiny, but I didn’t know how I could ever get out.
I never felt safe, no matter where I turned. But sadly, you get used to this where I come from. You learn how to cope by losing yourself.
Now I’m going to tell you how this all changes and why my brother, sister, and I had glimpses of hope amongst the pain and difficulties of growing up in what I call the dark side of America.
When I was a baby living in a shelter, I met Erin. I don’t remember a lot at the very start but as I became a toddler Erin became a big part of our lives. Erin was from Canada (but living in Atlanta) and my brother and I became very close to her and at one point she let my mom, brother, and me live with her for a little while. She was just always there and she was funny. She started to bring my brother and me up to visit her family and friends in Canada in the summers when we were really little. Even after Erin moved back to Canada, when I was 4, we still flew up to visit her every summer. My half-sister was born when I was 6 and she started to come with us as well. We went on a road trip to Halifax one summer when I was 11 and I will never forget those memories.
Erin became the only consistent thing in our lives. She always showed up. She also introduced me to Kristin, who also showed up and helped my siblings and me get on a plane every summer to go to Canada. Some summers this was harder than you’d think, to find us first of all, and to get my brother and me to the airport, with all the moving we did, Kristin was there for us. Between her and Erin we had some hope and a break from our world.
From the time we were little boys to teenagers, my brother and I would count down the days until we could get back to Canada. It was always the hardest day of the year in August when we’d have to go back “home”. Both of us would dread the day we had to go back, but we did know that Erin would visit us in Atlanta during the year and we began to trust she’d always get us to Canada every summer. One year when I was 13, I went out to Calgary at Christmas too.
I always say that Erin is my “fresh air” throughout my life. I can take a deep breath when I am around her. She has seen my brother, sister, and me at some of our hardest times and also when we’re the happiest on a beach in Port Elgin, ON or riding a horse at her friend's farm. Even though I know Erin didn’t grow up like us, she understands where I came from more than anyone in Canada mostly because she still came to visit us in Atlanta and continues to go see my brother and sister.
Over the years we met so many people in Canada. I remember when my sister first came up, she couldn’t believe the village of people that cared about her. My brother and I used to tell her “they are for real Tanijah, they are this kind in Canada”…We didn’t have to look over our shoulder all the time. We trusted Erin and her community more than anyone. She would leave us with her friends sometimes when she had to work and they were always kind.
As I became older the differences between Canada and where I lived in America became more and more real. The lack of violence, nobody carried guns, you ate three meals a day and food was never going to run out. It was also just far away and to be honest, I really liked that. It was another world.
When I was 15 years old my brother and I flew up to Canada on June 3rd, 2015.
Here is the best part of my story….I never flew back and well, Erin became my God-Mom.
It all started with a road trip that she and I took on our own in July 2015. I couldn’t hold in how hard the year was for me and I told Erin everything. I told her how scared I was to go back. I was scared every year and knew I had to just deal with it. Never in my wildest of dreams could I have seen what was about to happen.
It seems like a really long time ago (July 2015) but also kinda like yesterday. Erin lived in Toronto at that time, and she had this balcony at her apartment that was really chill. I remember she got a babysitter for my little sister and my friend who had come up to Canada too that summer. So, it was just Erin and me on the balcony, she seemed really serious and I knew I had to pay attention. All I remember were these words “Dreylin, would you like to live in Canada with me, permanently? Would you like to go to school up here and start a new life?”
YES, YES, I answered. I remember I cried that day when I realized Erin was for real and I didn’t have to go back to the gang waiting for me. She spoke with my birth mother first, she agreed this would be best for me.
Erin adopted me so this could all happen and I became her kid, and will be forever.
This was what my brother and I dreamed of our whole lives. We used to talk about moving up there when we got older and we’d work on Jenny’s farm (Erin’s friend).
It’s almost 7 years ago since that day on the balcony of Erin’s place in Toronto. I now live in Oakville with my two God-Mom’s (Erin and her partner Kris) and my life has changed so much. They both believe in me and continue to help me find my purpose. We're there for each other, we may be a small, and different kind of family but we have lots of love.
Sometimes I can’t believe Erin has known me since I was a baby. It actually makes me feel safe. I finally know that someone has my back…she really fights for me. Y’all should see it, she’s fierce when she loves you! I know Kris would agree.
Someone once told me it’s more like another planet living in a suburb of Toronto vs. the inner city of Atlanta and this could not be more true. It’s been a real struggle to feel like I belong. I’ve gone to high schools up here where kids think it's so cool that I’ve seen guns, shootings, and violence and grew up where their favourite rappers learned to survive. It's confusing, to be honest. In many ways they glorify my trauma but it's even harder to know what to do when all I want are a couple of friends. I’m different up here….I don’t fit in like the others, mostly because my start was quite different.
Since I’ve lived in Canada I’ve been to a couple of high schools but with the purpose to make sure I got the help I needed to catch up. The education system I came from really didn’t care about kids like me. I arrived into the Canadian system at 15 with many years of trauma and a constant mentality of survival mode to unpack. I had the best teachers and tutors you could imagine and they were my only friends in some ways when I first arrived. Thank you, Lindsay Roy, Danielle Miron, Mr. Doug, Mr. Everest, Mr. Fugler, Ms. Bharti, Ms. Westlake, Ms. Thomson, Ms. Gray, Ms. Husain. I’m not sure I could have done this without you. You’ve helped me so much. On January 23rd, 2020 I graduated High School from White Oaks Secondary High School in Oakville, Ontario. I had to work so hard for this and it really happened. Dave and Kelly Thakkar, thank you for caring and guiding me during this time.
Covid-19 has made the last year and a half very difficult post-graduation. I did my co-op for high school credits in dog walking and ended up getting a cool gig after I graduated, with my mom’s friend. Unfortunately with everyone home, people don’t need me to walk their dogs. So I took an opportunity to volunteer at an organization I am involved in called Young Life. They have an incredible property out in Princeton, BC. I have been back and forth a few times volunteering in different capacities, but with COVID still a factor I am back home now, with my God-Moms in Oakville.
When I first moved to Canada it was a lot of change. New school, new city, new home and Erin was trying to figure this all out as well with her work schedule which required a lot of travel. It was really fun when I could travel with her but I had to stay on my school schedule. I’m really grateful for her friends that helped both of us.
Erin brought me back a bracelet from one of her trips and I just wore it all the time.
We believe in counselling and therapy in our home and I started to meet with a therapist when I moved to Oakville. She helps me make sense of my trauma, why I get scared and listened to me talk about my memories in dark America and what I’ve seen. She helps me create tools for when I’m triggered by some dark memories or when I really don’t feel like myself. I always wore my bracelet and it really helped me. It quickly reminded me I was in Canada, I was safe and I found this very grounding. This was good for school and whenever anything became too much, which was often for me.
On the way home from the session that day Erin and I were talking about the bracelet and how it really helps me and we both realized that I could make bracelets myself…a detour to the bead store took place that night. The first bracelets I made were just for myself. When I touch them it reminds me where I am, and this brings me strength and hope.
I really liked coming up with new designs and my family and friends really loved them. My God-Moms and I came up with the name Beadz by Dre and we started to come up with a plan. I would come home from school and make beads, it just helped me calm down at the end of the day.
Erin works in the sport of curling business. She has introduced me to some of the coolest athletes and you won’t believe it….my beads are worn by so many of them. They even made it to the Olympics and won a Gold medal!
It’s been quite the journey so far in my life and now my bracelets are making a comeback. It's not easy sharing my story. It's different when I have to write it down but we all have one inside us and I’m really happy that I can share it with you.
I make my bracelets with care. I pray that whoever wears them feels the same hope and strength I do.
Thanks, y’all for your support. It means a lot.