It’s hard to believe that Lauryn Hill’s groundbreaking, hip hop-soul album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” was released 17 years ago! Ms. Hill turned 40 today - happy birthday genius! I write this, reflecting on her musical offering “The Miseducation” which cemented her as one of hip hop and soul music’s most prolific artists. She became a leader in the music industry as a woman who took the helm of her career and created a masterpiece - her way! This essay pays tribute to Ms. Hill and how her award-winning album, changed my life.

“The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” album was released in August of 1998. I had turned 23 in early August of 1998. I was in the midst of a deep depression and it seemed nothing could bring me out of it. The previous years had been a whirlwind: I graduated from college, I moved back to St. Louis and got a job. I entered a graduate degree program, had a relationship, took yoga, tai chi and African dance class each week and still managed to spend time with my family. I had so much on my plate, I barely left any quiet time for myself and I never took a “break” as some young people do right before or immediately after college. I was burning myself out already. I previously had my own apartment, but had now chose to move back in with my mother to save money. I had also just ended my relationship and was in quite a funk about it. My daily schedule consisted of going to work, attending graduate classes at night and then coming home to hibernate. I still did yoga, went for bike rides and walked in the parks for exercise, but I did it alone. I had become joyless. I no longer wanted anyone else’s company because I didn’t feel like talking about what happened with my relationship or any other changes going on in my life. My mother tried to cheer me up, but I generally kept to myself. Her hugs and periodic talks with me, gave me some comfort but I was still in a dark place. I didn’t want to be in St. Louis anymore. I felt like there wasn’t a soul in my hometown who I could relate to or connect with. Many of my close friends were back East, where I attended college in the DMV area. It was at this time, in 1998, that I felt I was the sister from another planet. All I cared about was saving money, keeping my strict vegan diet, praying and getting to where I needed to be. But I didn’t really know where I needed to be and I was frustrated.

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I watched the Oprah Show when I could in the afternoons, trying to glean pearls of wisdom and inspiration from Oprah and her guests to make myself feel better. I started taking a B-stress complex vitamin and it helped my depression lift. I began to read books by Deepak Chopra and Louise Hay which helped me create affirmations and use aromatherapy oils to help me sleep at night. I started painting and making my own stationary. I started making collages that I later realized were vision boards - using words and images of where I wanted my life to be. I was trying to pull myself out of the depression, but it was tough. I felt like a failure because I had to give up my apartment and move back home. I also felt like a failure because a relationship with someone I cared about had ended. For the first time in my young life, I had hit a sort of rock bottom where I questioned, “Who am I?” and “Why am I so unhappy?”

I was in graduate school and planning to transfer to a University out of state, I just didn’t know where yet. Constantly going in circles about whether I would leave St. Louis and what my next move might be, I was plagued by constant worry. My mother came to me with an idea after seeing me mope around the house for far too long. I was low on money so I couldn’t buy any new music for myself, something that I really loved and my mother knew it. One evening, she said “Let’s get out of the house.” We drove to a local record store to browse. She told me, “Look around and pick out any CD you want – my treat.” I was very excited to say the least. I was a big fan of The Fugees when they first came out and I had seen them in concert. Lauryn’s voice was so powerful as a female emcee. The fact that she was an artist from New Jersey, who held her own with male hip hop artists, much like Queen Latifah or MC Lyte, really impressed me. Her solo CD had just come out and I immediately chose it out of a stack of CDs while my mother and I browsed.

That night I went home, I put Lauryn’s CD on repeat. I remember hearing on radio when Lauryn became pregnant. It was such a shock to some media, DJs and fans who assumed Lauryn was a “good girl” who would never get pregnant out of wedlock. People were so judgmental about Lauryn’s personal life and it was ridiculous – forgetting that she was human. And this is what was revealed to me while listening to “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” Lauryn was human, a young woman who had experienced life’s ups and downs despite her beauty, intelligence, fame and talent. If Lauryn could come through some dark days in her young life, why couldn’t I?

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I had been writing poetry for a few years, but I rarely shared it with anyone. When I started listening to Hill’s solo album, her words, the music and the spirit behind the album gave me the energy to write more. Lauryn sang and rapped about women’s self-esteem, self-worth, being heartbroken, the love of her life – her son, the community and finding her true self. I could relate to all of this times 10! I may not have had a child, but I understood heartbreak, desiring to know your purpose and holding on to your self- esteem and self-value as a woman, at all costs. I put Lauryn Hill’s album on repeat while studying, writing and even while sleeping. Her words of love, empowerment, advice to women “don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem,” and tales of healing from heartbreak soothed me. I was inspired that Lauryn took the helm of her career by creating this album, and that it seemed her best work was indeed created after her own experiences of personal turmoil and pain. I realized that this is something I needed to do: take control of my life, stop wallowing in my pain, become the woman I had been envisioning and embrace the artist’s path so I could share my creativity with the world. My mother and I heard that members of The Last Poets were going to be in town at a venue so we went to see them. I later found out that the venue was run by Dahveed Nelson, a legendary poet and founding member of The Last Poets. I read my poetry at this venue in St. Louis and it was an amazing experience.

Listening to Lauryn’s album, watching her throughout the year grace magazine covers and receive awards for her album, gave me the courage to pursue an artist’s life. Within a month of listening to Hill’s album, I decided to move back to the East Coast where I was born. It took me nine months to save money and plan, but with my mind made up, I drove out to the East Coast from St. Louis and I didn’t look back. I moved to my birthplace of Brooklyn and became a member of the writing and performance arts community in New York City. I began to submit my poetry to magazines and journals, and read my poetry at various venues. When I looked at Lauryn Hill, a talented, beautiful woman who had scars from relationships and the pressures of the societal expectations of women, I saw myself and the trials I had overcome. Through Lauryn, I learned that “good girls” make mistakes too, and that no genuine artist creates without first experiencing some level of pain. I was able to take my pain and transform it into art as a part of my life purpose, something that I still do. Thank you Lauryn Hill for reminding us all that you are “only human” and that our humanity and purpose is what connects us all.

What were you doing when “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” was released?

Written by @DuEwaWorld.