PONTIAC, Michigan — When we think of leadership lessons, we often think of them coming from a scholar or successful businessperson. But one woman who is both of those now, learned her lessons years earlier from the garbage can. Imagine your soft, cozy bed, when you look at the base of this tree. Now, imagine this tree base is your bed. Thirty years ago, that was Rita Fields’ reality.
“It was 30 years ago, and it always still feels like it’s yesterday.” Rita Fields explains.
This park became her home after she dropped out of high school and ran away at 17. Shortly after, she was homeless and pregnant.
“When you’re pregnant, you’re just always ravenously hungry, and not having options to eat. When you’re hungry, really hungry, it’s the only thing you think about.” Fields says of her time in the park.
She began to panhandle on this nearby street corner, but never made enough money to buy food. Instead, she ate from this dumpster.
“Because it was my only option.” Says Fields.
Fields says she learned most of her best life lessons eating from the dumpster and living in the park. First, she learned to be resourceful. Not just by finding food, but by using a found butter knife to assemble a crib for her son. Next, commitment. She went back to school to provide for him. Also, time management. She needed to take nine buses to get to a job to earn money to feed her son. And finally, be your own inner mentor.
Fields states that, “If you don’t believe in yourself, it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks, and if you do believe in yourself, then who cares what anybody else thinks.”
Another lesson, when you see a homeless person on the street, don’t judge them, help them. They could be another Rita, who now works for the organization that once ran the shelter she moved to after leaving the park. According to the USDA, more than 35 million people are food insecure in the country. And the U.S. census says about a quarter of the u-s population is housing insecure.