Full-time student, full-time mom: Navigating a new normal

By Samaria Parker

Crying could be heard from across the room. He was awake. Again.

It was the fourth time that night, and at this point Adele Williams wasn’t sure if her eyes were burning from lack of sleep or because she was about to start crying herself. It was probably both.

All she knew was that she had to do well on her psychology final and get Zeke back to sleep.

In the past few months, the ability to pull the all-nighters she had once been able to pull with ease had become more of a challenge.

Navigating z-scores, correlations and graphs was tricky enough, but combining that with the task of trying to understand the needs of the little human beside her was even trickier. Did he just want the pacifier? Did his diaper need to be changed? Was he hungry? He couldn’t be; she had just fed him. Did he just want to be held? This guessing game went on into the early morning as she tried to figure out how to best comfort her 5-month-old son. When all else failed, she would rock him, hoping he would take the pacifier, and quietly beg for him to fall back asleep.

Once he drifted back to sleep, Williams would settle back on the couch amongst her mess of notes, textbooks and highlighters, open her laptop and get back to the statistics.

As she stared at the screen, all she could think about was sleep. It was something she hadn’t gotten much of lately.

Not since all seven pounds, six ounces and 20.5 inches of Ezekiel “Zeke” Anthony Gipson came into the world, early in the morning, on July 8, 2019. It was like she traded in sleep for the new bundle of joy she held in her arms. It was worth it, but man, she was tired.

A change in plans

At the age of 20, Williams knew what her plans were: Graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill. Become a physician assistant. Get married. Have a baby.

But as Williams stood in the bathroom of the Campus Health Services building staring down at the positive pregnancy test in her hand, she knew her plan was going to be disrupted. The news brought no tears, just her silence and the buzzing of the fluorescent lights in the bathroom.

She imagined all the reactions she could have – crying, screaming, cursing. Instead, she stood still, staring down at the pregnancy test in her hand.

Without even giving it a second thought, she knew she was having the baby. The crushing guilt of getting rid of the child was enough to solidify her decision. So, as she came to terms with her new reality, she thought to herself: “Well, okay. Gotta get ready for it.” She grabbed her belongings, tossed the test in the trash and exited the bathroom.

Have a baby. Finish school. Become a physician assistant. Get married. Then have another baby.

Making calls for her future

Two weeks later, it was time to make the call. However, the call was not to her parents, for that call had already been made. This one was to her best friend, and somehow, she was equally as nervous.

As Williams waited for her friend of 14 years to pick up, she just knew she was going to be mad.

“I have something to tell you,” Williams paused for a moment before continuing. “I’m pregnant.”

To William’s surprise she didn’t sense any anger from the other side of the phone. Instead, Kianna Wilder fell quiet for a moment before saying, “Don’t let a baby be an excuse for you not to do the things you want to do.”

Williams wouldn’t, despite the number of questions that came with the following pregnancy announcements.

Are you dropping out? How are you going to stay in school? Are you planning on going back home? How do you plan on graduating?

The rounder her belly became, the quicker she was able to answer each question.

“No, I’m not dropping out.”

“Yes, I am going to stay in school.”

“No, I am not planning on going back home.”

While peers weren’t sure how she was going to be able to do it, William’s confidence remained unshaken. Baby or no baby, she had goals. Now, she had someone else to share them with.

It was no longer as simple as just wanting to graduate. Now, she needed to. She no longer just wanted to become a physician assistant. She now needed a job that would allow her baby to have everything he ever needed. She wanted the house, the husband and the career, and she planned on having it.

As her feet swelled and stomach grew with each passing week, Williams stayed in school. She studied hard, passed all her classes and kept her job at the school’s financial aid office. When July rolled around, she had Zeke.

The new normal

She was still a college student, but the baby she was now responsible for made her so different from her peers. She no longer had the luxury of thinking solely about herself.

While her peers are waking up, rolling out of bed, brushing their teeth, throwing on some clothes and heading to class, she is waking up twice as early to do the same routine for two. Brushing her and Zeke’s teeth, getting them both dressed, making sure they both eat and dropping Zeke off at daycare – all before she heads to campus for class.

The hours that Williams spent alone were most often spent in classes or at work. The rest of her time was now spent alongside Zeke. They do everything together. They watch YouTube videos together, play in the little ball pit set up in the living room together, they laugh together, cry together, take Instagram pictures together.

These are the moments, both good and bad, that she couldn’t imagine any other way.

No matter how many sleepless nights, missed parties or challenges Williams faced, the hard times always faded away as soon as she looked down at that cute little nose and those big eyes staring right back into hers. She knows life is just the way it should be.

“I always wanted to be a mom,” Williams said. “I didn’t think I would be one this early, but I look and I can’t believe I made this little person.”


Edited by Elisabeth Beauchamp

Meet the five local college students who launched their own creative media company

By Jonny Cook 

On a brisk Sunday afternoon in Chapel Hill, most UNC-Chapel Hill students are doing homework, studying or even nursing a hangover after a Saturday night out. Baaqir Yusuf and the rest of his team at Triad Studios––a creative media production agency started by five college students––have been in their Franklin Street office for hours.

Tucked away between Julian’s clothing store and Underground Printing on Franklin Street, you might on first glance miss the small entrance labeled “JimKitchen.org.” The wooden entrance is so small that it’s not surprising the official address of the building is 1/2 133 E. Franklin St. Although difficult to see from the outside, a flurry of activity is happening inside.

Yusuf reads from his computer, “At Honors Carolina, you get your education from the world around you––”

“Wait, wasn’t there a line about the Board of Advisors?” Tristan Gardner, one of the other founders, interjects. “Let’s put something like that in there, ‘your personal board of advisors for the real world.’ ‘Between the faculty staff and…industry mentors? Industry leaders?’”

“‘Industry mentors’ is good,” Yusuf responds.

Gardner repeats: “You’ll have a personal board of advisors for the real world.” 

Yusuf’s eyes light up. “Yeah, I like that. I like that. ‘Between faculty, staff and industry mentors, you’ll have a personal board of advisors for the real world.’”

In one room of the office, Yusuf and Gardner are bouncing ideas off one another for a script accompanying a flagship video production for Honors Carolina. In an adjacent room, two of the other founders, Daniel Pan and Justin Fouts, are doing the post-production work for a new television show called Sip’d, which explores craft beverages. 

Yusuf could scarcely imagine he would be where he is now three years ago when he walked through the Pit in the middle of the UNC-CH campus and saw the Adobe Creative Cloud tent. He picked up a frisbee and gym bag, thinking little of it.

 “I got back to my dorm and thought, hold on, this is kind of cool,” Yusuf said. “I’ve always wanted to learn Photoshop.” 

After racing through a 20-hour Photoshop fundamentals tutorial, he began tinkering with Photoshop. It was great, but something was missing; he was using others’ photos. What if he could use the same skills he was gaining, but with his own photos?

Then came his first major investment: a $400 Nikon D3400 camera. 

“My mom was like, ‘I don’t know, do you think you’re gonna use it? I don’t think you’re going to use it.’ And I said, “I’m going to prove you wrong,” Yusuf remembers.

 From friendship to entrepreneurship

Weeknights spent in Raleigh until the early hours of the morning with his childhood friend and future co-founder, Pan, sparked Yusuf’s passion. The early years of their friendship remain especially sentimental for Pan in light of their relationship now.  

“He was always top three––not much to say in third grade––but top three smartest kids in our grade, but that never really mattered that much to me,” Pan said. “He was always a people person. When we were 8 years old, it was his house where we were going to play basketball, or he’d be out and gather the troops so we could play soccer in someone’s backyard.”

The Raleigh nights these old friends spent together began to sow seeds of doubt in Yusuf’s mind about his future. Until then, Yusuf had told his parents he would be a doctor, a plan which they took pride in.

“My mom always wanted to be a doctor, but she couldn’t for various reasons,” Yusuf said.  “She was like, ‘yeah, my son’s going to be a doctor, it’s going to be awesome.’”

After completing a research internship in which he shadowed a radiation oncologist in Greenville following his freshman year, he realized medicine didn’t offer the lifestyle or path he desired. Above all, Yusuf desired the freedom and ability to cultivate his affinity for interacting with others. 

Exploring their options, Yusuf, Pan and Michael Thomas––one of Yusuf’s friends from Panther Creek High School––started a brand inspired by their favorite travel videographers whose work they wanted to emulate. They called it Triad Studios.

 The path to Triad wasn’t entirely straight or easy, however. Revealing to his parents that he would not be a doctor proved to be a very difficult decision for Yusuf. Family has always been a crucial value in Yusuf’s life, and one of his biggest fears is disappointing his parents.  

The next best thing to being a doctor, Yusuf thought, would be investment banking or consulting. His studies in these areas, too, proved unsatisfying. 

Yusuf began to wonder what his future would hold. 

Despite his academic frustrations, Yusuf and his friends slowly tried to build a portfolio, working with small clients. But even this had slowed by the end of the first semester of their sophomore year. 

They needed something else. Yusuf had worked for a startup part-time his first year––The Campus Cause––which sold discount key tags for businesses on Franklin Street. There, he met Fouts, who shared his passion for people and had interests in finance and sales.

At the end of the fall semester, Yusuf reached out to Fouts. Fouts, who had started a small brand called Flare Studios with his friend Gardner, agreed to meet. In a Davis Library study room, Yusuf, Gardner and Fouts video chatted with Thomas and Pan, proposing a joint venture under the brand name of Triad. They all agreed to try the idea when they returned from winter break.

“We always call Baaqir the ‘king of Triad,’ because he brought everybody together,” Gardner said. “He’s all about connecting us.”

Fouts agrees with Gardner.

“We blindly went into business together, and it turned out to be one of the luckiest things we ever did,” Fouts said.

A successful work in progress

For six months, the five of them crowded around a single laptop in Gardner’s Carolina Square apartment, taking on any project they could get their hands on.

 After speaking with professor Jim Kitchen in the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, Gardner secured the group an office, which provided the breakthrough and space needed to explore their creativity.

 Now, two years later, business is flourishing. Triad has worked with over 60 clients in various industries, including university institutions, nonprofits and large franchises. After earning $82,000 in business in their first year and $270,000 in their second year, they’re poised to double last year’s revenue.

As a second semester senior, Yusuf recognizes that his situation is unique from his peers. While others are networking and applying to jobs, he is focused each day on chasing his vision. Even though the social pressure stemming from such a circumstance is unavoidable, he remains resolute.

The hard work has paid off for Yusuf and has provided him knowledge he can take into his future work. 

Yusuf said: “Triad has re-taught me that anything is possible if you put in the effort and anyone can do anything with the right focus.”

 

Edited by Elisabeth Beauchamp and Suzanne Blake.