Lucille O'Neal is more than just the mama of an uber-famous NBA star. Once a single, teenage mom, she chronicles her struggle with poverty, addiction and abuse in her new book, "Walk Like You Have Somewhere To Go." Here, she shares the source of her motivation with us.
Momlogic: What inspired you to write this book?
Lucille O'Neal: I had been wanting to write this book for such a long time. I was inspired by my children. Down inside, I wanted to be able to encourage somebody, because I went through so much when I was young -- especially being tall. And I learned how words can hurt you and have a major impact on your life as an adult. So I wanted to help someone.
ML: "Mental welfare" is such a great phrase. What does it mean to you?
LON: My son gave me that phrase! When I told my son, Shaquille, that I wanted to write a book, he said, "Mommy, the title should be 'From Mental Welfare to Mental Wealth.'" He went through this journey with me. When we first got together after I had the manuscript, I asked if he wanted to read it and he said, "No, I travelled the journey with you."
That "mental welfare" state of mind was when I depended on everyone else for my own happiness. You can mess yourself up trying to do that. I was young, coming out of high school and had a baby. I had to take care of Baby and make Baby happy, and do what my grandparents wanted me to do at that time -- which was take the responsibility -- so that made them happy. I made my mother happy by just being a good, obedient young person.
Then I went to church to make the church folk happy, and my friends ... I made them happy. But all the while, I was feeling a little bit messed up. I wasn't happy because things were not going the way that I wanted them to go. That was my "mental welfare" state of mind, and I stayed there for years. Now today, they call that depression. Now I talk about the journey and all the things I went through in the book to turn around my state of mind. Now I have "mental wealth." I'm so rich, and it doesn't have anything to do with money. I'm stronger in my mind, I'm happy and I'm not dependent on anyone for my happiness. I'm in a much, much better place. I'm more courageous and I've grown because of what I've been through.
ML: You say that "mental welfare" is depression?
LON: Yes. But back in my day, we didn't have any labels for depression or low self-esteem, so we couldn't identify those feelings that we had.
ML: It says in your book that you played basketball yourself in high school! A lot of people probably didn't know that.
LON: When I played basketball, it was nowhere near as competitive as it is now. We could only play half-court. And being the tallest, I had to play center. I wasn't able to handle the ball or shoot the ball, but I still had fun.
ML: You got pregnant at your senior prom, right? What was your greatest struggle as a single mom?
LON: It was brand new! I was so young and didn't have an idea about what being a mom was all about. But I wanted to accept the responsibility, so I did that after a while. And my grandmother and mother were very helpful. I wanted to be a mother so much because I wanted to accept responsibility for what was considered a "mistake." My grandmother used to remind me that [Shaquille] wasn't a doll; that he was a real live person now. I just needed to do what needed to be done. I was on welfare for a little bit. And I wanted to go to work. Baby needed to be taken care of, so I drummed up enough courage, got out there, hit the pavement and found this job.
ML: According to your book, you lived with your grandparents -- and they were abusive. How did you eventually learn to overcome that and break its cycle with Shaquille?
LON: Back then, it wasn't "abuse" -- it was just a way of life. We label so many things now, it gets a little bit confused. I wouldn't say that I was "abused," I'd just say that I went through some things. It was the only way my grandparents knew. I wouldn't call it "abuse," I'd call it a tough time. If I had to go through that all over again, I'd be stronger and in a much better place to deal with it. It messes things up in your mind when you are following other people, because you aren't even concentrating on what you can do for yourself, and you're so dependent on everybody else. It took all of that in order for me to get here, which is a much better place. And I will never, ever let my "then" control my "now." That's the beauty of my life right now. I don't let anyone disturb my peace -- that's out of the question.
ML: What would you tell a girl today who's in a similar situation?
LON: I would tell that young girl to look within herself. As people, we are blessed with creativity and we have more strength than we know to face the reality of any situation. Once the baby is here, it's here -- so we have to deal with that on a day-to-day basis. But I want to encourage all the young people out there not to be afraid. We're always afraid of what's unknown. However, if we make the effort to do something for ourselves, they'll be surprised how additional help will come. So be encouraged and don't think that it is the end of the world, because it is not. It's just a chapter. It's a obstacle, yes, but we have to be able to look past those and have some determination. It all starts with you.
ML: What advice would you give her mother?
LON: I would tell her mother not to abandon her, to be there in case she needs help. Be there in case she just needs someone to talk to, because communication is so very important. And I would tell her mother to not keep saying, "You messed up," because those are the words a young mother does not want or need to hear. I would just tell the mother to be there, and remember how it was as a parent and that we were young once, too. I feel for my daughters for all that they go through, and I want to make myself available if ever they need to talk. It's important that we are there if they need us without passing judgment. That is a biggie.
ML: How do you hope your book will help others?
LON: Everything begins with you, and it's easier said than done, but if you want to look inside of yourself, I'm sure that you will find a treasure in there. Because I was alone, I did a lot of talking to myself and we have to learn to encourage ourselves. We don't have to wait on anybody else. When you have a strong determination and a passion for life, then you begin to take everything you feel and put it into operation. It starts with you -- and comes back to you!