Finding My Voice

How Karen Scott learned to live freely and without fear.

by Karen Scott

When I was in kindergarten, my five siblings and I were removed from our home in Brooklyn, New York, after a teacher learned of my father’s sexual abuse. By then, I was so scared of saying anything about it that I had developed a stutter.

We were supposed to be safe but instead we passed through a series of dangerous foster homes. I’ll never forget the time when one woman began hitting my sister. I picked up a knife and told her, “If you hit her again, I’ll kill you.” I was 6 years old and had enough.

I was removed from the home and separated from my brothers and sisters. No matter where I went, I felt unsafe. I spent three more years in foster care until two wonderful people adopted me. In this safer environment, I was able to start dreaming about my future, as children are meant to do.

I decided I wanted to become a teacher someday, but the trauma I had experienced continued to haunt me. I had these gaping holes in my heart that I eventually tried to fill with men. I convinced myself that the right person could make me feel secure and bring me joy. Far from it, the men I attracted only perpetuated the abuse.

I no longer needed to look to others to fill the holes in my heart.

I tried to hide these relationships from my parents until my mother discovered marks on my neck. She was heartbroken, but together we made a plan to escape from my boyfriend. Even then, I continued to seek out abusive relationships for another 14 years. I was in my late 30s, when I escaped my last dangerous relationship.

Within two years, I completed my master’s degree and accepted a teaching position just days before my 40th birthday. Though I now had achieved one of my great dreams, I still felt a deep emptiness.

I was contemplating suicide when I confided in a doctor who was treating me for a serious illness. He recommended I take a yoga class to help soothe me. At my third class, a young woman asked me why I always looked so down. I opened up to her, and she handed me a card that said Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

When I chanted, I began to have intense flashbacks of episodes of abuse. I realized that although I was no longer living in violence, I hadn’t dealt with the trauma. I also realized that I could find my voice again by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

I attended a local district discussion meeting in Harlem, New York, with my new friend. At the meeting, several members spoke about overcoming serious challenges. One woman later visited me and shared how she had overcome domestic violence herself. Listening to these members’ experiences convinced me that I could actually transform my deep pain and trauma into happiness and joy.

My illness soon got worse, and I had to take a leave from school. In the hospital, my new SGI friends came to visit and chant with me. When I spoke to them, they would listen, and I felt my voice mattered. The treatment I received worked beautifully, and I didn’t need the surgery once thought necessary.

Soon after, I received the Gohonzon, on July 6, 2014. I shared my Buddhist practice with one of my closest friends. She was so impressed by my newfound optimism that she decided to receive the Gohonzon the following month.

As I chanted, studied and shared this Buddhism with others, I began to realize that I no longer needed to look to others to fill the holes in my heart. I could fill them myself.

I soon made a determination to teach at a new school that treasured its students. I heard about an education job fair in Baltimore and hopped on a train. I was hired on the spot. I moved to the area in August 2014 and joined an incredible SGI district that embraced me like family.

This spring, following the riots in Baltimore, I determined that I wanted to make a difference. I decided to apply to a new school in one of the city’s most challenging neighborhoods. I was hired to teach English as a second language.

Many of my students are unaccompanied youth and survivors of violence. I realize now that everything that happened to me made me qualified to support these students and give them hope. I care for them in the same way many of my friends in the SGI have cared for me. Because of this, I have won their trust.

My biggest benefit has been to see my biological parents in a new light. My birth mother had the courage to free her six children from the shackles of abuse that she could not get out of herself. I am also no longer trapped by the anger and hate I had toward my father. Freely and without fear, I am able to help others find their voice, as I have found my own.