Transcript: Thanks Alan. Our guest today is Pamela M. Covington. She’s a speaker, author and advocate, as someone who escaped a stint of deep poverty through the pursuit of higher education. She’s driven to encourage others to achieve the greater potential rather than adopt a sense of futility. One of my favorite lines that you have on your website is “I’m zealous about encouraging others to achieve their greater potential rather than adopt a sense of futility.” Zealous is that’s like being driven on steroids, right?
Pamela Covington: That’s pretty much me.
David Brower: Well, welcome Pamela, it’s good to have you with us today.
Pamela Covington: Thank you David, I certainly appreciate the invitation.
David Brower: You bet. Let’s start with your story. As I read up on you, you were a journalist, a training instructor, and all kinds of interesting things and then you became a welfare recipient and found yourself in a not so happy place.
Pamela Covington: Yes. Well, actually, and it kind of was the other way around. I found myself in an unhappy place and as a result of working my way out of it, that’s how I discovered my communication ability, but originally, what had happened is I had basically gone from living a very comfortable middle-class lifestyle and found myself within a week, down to nothing. What actually happened was, my partner, my children’s dad, he was a Vietnam vet. I loved him dearly. He was a remarkable, talented, sensitive individual, and on his good day’s he was just irreplaceable, but he, like many other persons who served in Vietnam came back with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
David Brower: I am one, a Vietnam vet, so I get it.
Pamela Covington: Yeah. Well, he did not fare well in the long run and eventually it just became to the point where I had to make a major decision. To leave this person that I loved the most, who by the way, 30 years later, I’ve never come close to finding anyone as wonderful as he was.
I ended up leaving my financial security for the sake and the safety of myself and my children.
David Brower: And your children. Absolutely.
Pamela Covington: It was an unplanned move, we just basically-
David Brower: That’s what mothers do, they turn into the mama bear and protect those kids, you know.
Pamela Covington: Yes.
David Brower: So then, you came out of it with the pursuit of education, right?
Pamela Covington: Yes, exactly. In fact, I’m a big proponent of education as well as literacy. I advocate for both, poverty and literacy because there’s a connection between the two. Many times, individuals are living below poverty level because they can’t read or write, and in my circumstance, had I not been able to do that and actually have a love for it, I would not have been able to use education as my way out.
David Brower: You’re educated big time right now on paper. I mean, master’s degree in management, a masters in human resource management, bachelors in communication, associate degree in television production, you are passionate beyond passionate about education, aren’t you?
Pamela Covington: Yes, I am. I try to get other individuals to realize that we all come here with some skill, some talent. It may not be formal education, that was my way out. What I try to do is get individuals to realize that they have something to offer to the world. Something of value because it was a mistake how I came about discovering my communication abilities.
David Brower: But it turned into a gift right?
Pamela Covington: Yes. Exactly. But you know, let’s face it David, that was something that was already there, but like many others, I didn’t recognize it, I didn’t see the value of it. As I often say to my audiences, that because of the poverty situation I found myself thrust in to, I didn’t think I was worth anything. You kinda let that environment make you feel that you’re just a little old nothing and against everything that’s out there.
David Brower: Well no. Absolutely and not to minimize it, but I think we all to a certain degree, raise or lower ourselves through wherever our self-esteem ladder seems to be.
Pamela Covington: There you go.
David Brower: If our self-esteem is in the tank, guess what? We’re going to be associated with other people who are in the tank.
Pamela Covington: That’s right. And in a material society, it’s easy for you to adapt the whole thing of value in your worth, based on your possessions, so if you find yourself without those possessions, then what does that leave a person? They’re feeling a void because they’re basing their value on things instead of … I always quote Ralph Waldo Emerson who said that, “What lies before us, and what lies behind us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
David Brower: Oh, love that.
Pamela Covington: At no point did I find that, like when I was in a situation … How bad was poverty? It was considered deep poverty and the definition of deep poverty is living at half the income level of a government standard of poverty.
David Brower: Wow.
Pamela Covington: We were living half that level.
David Brower: How many kids?
Pamela Covington: I had two. I had a baby who was one and a half, and I had a son who was nine years old.
David Brower: My goodness. They loved you and you loved them and that had to be a huge comfort no matter what you were going through, right?
Pamela Covington: Yes. Absolutely. But you see, once I encountered the drug infested crime ridden neighborhoods, after having lived so comfortably, I knew that surely, I had to get myself out of there as soon as I could. What I tell people often is, “When you’re raising your children, it’s not just what you’re doing, you’re giving your children their definitions of life.” I do not want my boys to grow up thinking that being on welfare of living in those dilapidated conditions was normal.
David Brower: Wow. What a motivation. When the epiphany hit you that, my son’s not going to go through this, I’m going to figure out a way to get out of this. My son is not going to go through this, what steps did you take to get out?
Pamela Covington: Well, the first one I had to make was a decision, was I going to try to find work? Or was I going to go back to school? I had met a woman at my church who just insisted that I needed to go back to school because you see, back then you had a lot of help. You had things like the Pell Grant, which I believe recently incurred a major cut, you had BELG, you had SELG, so I used that safety net.
I had subsidized daycare so that my baby was able to go, free of cost, as long as each semester I brought a slip that showed I was a full-time registered student, so I used that. I used every resource I could find. The first place that my children and I actually lived in, I can’t refer to it anything other than an unheated, unairconditioned, in Florida, box of roaches.
David Brower: Oh my, that’s a visual that I can’t unsee for a while. Wow.
Pamela Covington: Because of section eight housing, which had housing standards, obviously the place that I lived did not, and coming from my comfort level, how comfortable was I David? I lived in downtown historic Savannah in one of the old restored Victorian home.
David Brower: Oh, I love Savannah. I know exactly what you’re talking about.
Pamela Covington: I went from that to that in a week.
David Brower: Wow.
Pamela Covington: It was a shock. It was a complete shock.
David Brower: Did it test your faith?
Pamela Covington: Yes. Absolutely. But because of section eight, I was able to get on a list, it took a year and a half to bail us out of the dilapidated housing, to at least where we had central heat and air conditioning. Because our bedrooms were upstairs in that other place, and in Florida without air conditioning, I can’t tell you how sweltering it was.
David Brower: Yeah, absolutely. My youngest son lives in Florida and I always tell him, I say, “I love you, I want to see you, I want to be with you, but only between October and March.” That’s it. So, I totally get it.
Now you’ve gone back, you’ve got your education, you’re motivating others along the way, I trust?
Pamela Covington: Absolutely.
David Brower: And then job wise, what do you end up doing once you get your education?
Pamela Covington: Well, here’s what happened. While in the junior college, working on that associates degree, I had a remarkable professor, who I was so glad to be able to contact, thanks to the internet and find him and let him know I was writing a book and ask, could I keep his name in the book, as is. And he said, yes. Because of him, I came to discover that my ability to instantaneously have a spot and to express it, choosing the exact words, I didn’t realize that was a gift.
David Brower: Wow.
Pamela Covington: But what happened was, one day after class, in his room, he said to me, “Pamela, make sure you come and see me in the office after class.” Well, I had been dealing with so many domestic issues, that surely, I knew that, uh-oh I must have done something wrong. I bet it was that last paper I turned in. I walk in his office, and I kid you not, then he says to me, “Pamela, this is outstanding.” He says, “You have a few grammatical errors here and there, but really,” he says, “I’m going to be honest, you can turn words into dollars.”
David Brower: Oh my Gosh.
Pamela Covington: And when I’m living on public assistance, getting $152.00 a month check and my box of which-a-ma-callems is costing me $170.00 a month, and here’s someone telling me that something that I thought nothing of, my ability to accurately express myself, was something that I can turn into dollars? So, the miracle of the whole situation was, I followed through every instruction, every course, everything that he ever had brought about for me, or suggested. And I did an internship at one of these color city glossy magazines, you know every city has one, it’s like a lifestyle magazine.
David Brower: Oh, sure.
Pamela Covington: During my internship there, one day, there comes a call. It’s a brand-new newspaper, called USA Today, and they’re looking for someone to go and cover a story. Well, everyone in that magazine was busy. I took the story and that was my very first published piece, while I was on welfare. No one knew it.
David Brower: Wow. I love the way things present themselves. When you’re fortunate and blessed enough as you are to be able to pay attention and listen, and then take those next steps that feel perfectly to go in that direction, and then, “Oh, by the way, hi, we’re USA Today, you want to write an article for us?” How cool is that?
Pamela Covington: I tell people when I am speaking in audiences, that one of the things you have to do to overcome adversity, is to be willing to expose yourself. You have to step out of that in order to work towards where you want to be. Now had I shrugged off the possibility of going to school or taking an unpaid internship or any of that, that never would have happened. So, I tell people, you have to step out of that, you have to go beyond that, you have to expose yourself to the unknown, because that’s where the unlimited possibilities are.
David Brower: No question. You have to be willing to take a risk. I’m a big fan of change, so you have to at least be open to that.
Pamela Covington: Yes. You have to. Opportunity will not come knocking at your door.
David Brower: No, that’s right huh?
Pamela Covington: You have to expose yourself.
David Brower: You expose yourself a lot through public speaking, you obviously love to do that, and my sense is you do it quite a bit. Is that reasonable?
Pamela Covington: Yes. I’m looking to do more and more and more. I recently had the opportunity to speak at an international convention with an organization I often work with as a poverty advocate, it’s called Results. They’re out of DC. They are about 37, well, maybe about 38 years old, and this year I was one of the headline speakers. I had an opportunity to speak to probably maybe about five or 600 people from all 50 states and over 20 countries.
David Brower: Oh my gosh. You touched some folks in that kind of a room.
Pamela Covington: Yes, well that one was motivational, we were talking about why we do the advocacy work. What I do and some instances, I put a face on poverty because a lot of people who are engaged and trying to support those things that are in a safety net, many of them have not had the experience of dealing with it. That’s where I come in to play, because I’m a story teller, so I will sell them some of my stories.
David Brower: Well, you’ve lived it, you’ve had the dream, you’re living the dream, and you’re able to relate that in obviously a very personal way and I assume all of that is in your memoir, “A Day at the Fare, F-A-R-E: One Woman’s Welfare Passage.” Tell us about that memoir, how’s that doing?
Pamela Covington: I actually started the book many years ago, and then when I took a full-time job, I had put the first 14 chapters down. 13 years later, when I got laid off from the job, I had certain synchronicities just line up and everything was pointing to, “You need to go and pick that up and finish that book.”
David Brower: Wow. I love that.
Pamela Covington: And then, many of my friends here in Virginia had no idea I had gone through that, because the story actually takes place in Savannah until I moved to Jacksonville, Florida. When I got laid off from my job, everyone was so sad for me, and I’m like, “Please, I’m going to be okay. This is nothing compared to what I’ve been through.” And they’re like, “really? What have you been through?” Then I told them how poor I was, that on a good day, on a good day, I cooked grits and vienna sausage on a kerosene heater.
David Brower: On a good day. Exactly.
Pamela Covington: On a good day. That I stole toilet tissue from McDonald’s.
David Brower: Oh yeah. For sure.
Pamela Covington: That’s how poor I was.
David Brower: Is your memoir, is it an audio book? Is it an eBook? What is it?
Pamela Covington: Well, right now, it’s available on amazon as both a paperback and an eBook, and I’m halfway through the production of it as an audio book, but I’m needing to do some fundraising. Yeah.
David Brower: I’m a voice actor, sound designer, I do some audio books and that kind of stuff, yeah. So.
Pamela Covington: I saw that. Wow. I saw your client list and it just blew me away. I said, Well, he’ll understand-
David Brower: Well, thank you.
Pamela Covington: … it when I tell him that I’m just regaining my voice. He knows how crucial a voice can be to someone. It’s our tool.
David Brower: Exactly. People want to learn more about you, they want to connect with you, they want to invite you to speak at their next event, how do they reach out to you? Just through your website? Social media? What’s the best way?
Pamela Covington: Yes. They can go to my website at www.pamelamcovington.com.
David Brower: All right.
Pamela Covington: And I’m all over social media, so I’m easy to find.
David Brower: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, she’s on all these folks. Pamelamcovington.com.
Pamela Covington: Yes, twitter, Facebook, yeah.
David Brower: And you’re currently writing “Inspiration for Everyday People.” A self-empowerment workbook. That sounds fascinating.
Pamela Covington: I’m basically write from life experiences, so, it’s another way for me to take the lessons that I’ve learned from all of this and parlay it into a form that other persons can get the message.
David Brower: Well, not to put words in your mouth, but that is the most important thing is to reach out, touch people, share your message and then after that, what your professor said, “Hey, why don’t you turn some words into dollars.”
Pamela Covington: Well, this is the work I want to do the rest of my life David.
David Brower: Well, you’re in the right place, you are on a roll. I love talking to you and I’m so proud of you and I’m so happy for you and you are one blessed girl.
Pamela Covington: Thank you so much, thank you.
David Brower: Our guest has been Pamela M. Covington. Be sure to pick up her book “A Day at the Fare, F-A-R-E: One Woman’s Welfare Passage” and be sure to go to her website or find her on social media, pamelamcovington.com. Pamela, a treat to talk to you, have a great day.
Pamela Covington: Thank you so much David. You too, bye.