Sometimes, masters of perseverance and good faith live in our own backyard without our knowledge.
So does Linda Terry, who moved to Centreville in 1993. A mother of two, Terry has turned a life of poverty and misery into a life filled with love, success and poetry.
Terry, who was born and raised in the Bronx of New York City, often looks back on a childhood marked by poverty and loneliness. She lost her father when she was 9 years old and was left with her mother and five siblings. Living in a family struggling to survive, Terry had no one to turn to. At the age of 12 , however, she found her own outlet: poetry. Inspired by Emily Dickinson, whose poems she became familiar with in middle school, Terry started writing her own poems, and like Emily, did not share them with anyone — until she realized that no one would seek her out in the ghetto to find her work.
Between the age of 12 and 18, Terry wrote many poems that dealt mainly with her daily struggles in life, including violence, drugs, and most of all, loneliness.
“I kind of withdrew and thought about life a lot,” Terry said. “The thoughts were overwhelming and I had to get them all out. I wrote about my innermost feelings.”
Now Terry has published a collection of her works called ‘Pieces of a Poet — The Symphony of an Adolescent.’ The book features all of Terry’s poems from her teenage years. The poem ‘Trapped’ for example, is about a little girl being burned in a fire. Terry said that burnt-out houses in the ghetto often made her think about what it must be like to be killed in a fire. This particular work, she said, also relates to the horrifying events of Sept. 11 and the people that perished. Another poem, ‘You Call It Murder — I Call It Rape,” deals with a rape victim who killed her attacker by stabbing him. This particular poem emphasizes the struggles of being black in America, as the rape victim is black and without support from the community.
Terry, who presently moonlights as a local actress — next to her job as program manager for Fairfax County Public Schools — uses this very poem in a one-woman show for her auditions. Having starred in ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ at the American Century Theater in Arlington, Terry also acts for TV and industrials. Her B.S. in business was only meant to serve as a ‘back-up’: “I knew when I was a little girl I wanted to be an actress,” Terry said. “But my mother urged me to get a degree to fall back on.”
Terry started her education at the age of 18 at the Onondaga Community College in New York. During those two years, Terry played on the basketball team and tried to save money for her school of choice — Syracuse University. But her entry into this place of higher learning was blocked when her family stopped receiving social security funds. After two years at Onondaga, she then joined the military to finish college. “I’m a leader and did pretty well in the military. But it was all about discipline and all about going to college,” Terry said. “The military, where they whip you into shape real quick, was a good experience.”
Elizabeth Clarke, who has been friends with Terry for more than eight years, remembered being drawn to her because of this determination. "She encourages people to set goals for themselves. That's why I've been friends with her for so long," she said.
Terry now works to generate revenue for the Fairfax County school system. Remembering the lack of guidance in her own childhood and teenage years, she now makes a point of helping people.
Looking back, Terry is glad to have found poetry to help her deal with life. “The people I grew up with in the ghetto are either dead, in jail, or strung out on drugs. There are not many people that survive ghetto life," said Terry. “I wanted to be different. I wanted to do the exact opposite of what most kids in the ghetto did.”
Richard Williams, Terry’s brother and only one year apart, describes her as very outgoing and friendly. “Terry overcame obstacles by driving motivation. The motivation not to be like others she grew up with.” On her 18th birthday, Terry wrote a piece that she named "Finale of a Child." This poem would be the last one to complete her first book.