BY CINDY CARTER, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — British Dancy wants the world to know how a little respect and a lot of love can turn around lives. She is the aunt of a local teenager caught up in a web of alleged abuse and family turmoil.
Granted guardianship in January of this year of her beautiful niece Marjuanee, who will be an eighth grader come August, Dancy chose to open up about the family history that according to her has been marred by emotional and physical abuse toward one of its younger members.
“She tried to commit suicide like three times,” said Dancy who tells of her niece’s time at the Personal Enrichment through Mental Health Services (PEMHS), a crisis care facility in St. Petersburg where the teen was treated for cutting.
Dancy cites years of abuse at the hands of family members, some in Texas where her niece lived with her father and then again here after she returned to live with her mother in 2010, for the suicide attempts. The last attempt was reported in January and after her release from PEMHS, Marjuanee found herself just a few days later seeking refuge with her aunt.
Dancy admits to notifying local authorities and those in Texas of the abuse allegations, but feels the urgency has been pushed under the table out west since the alleged victim had been removed from the home.
“She had a pretty rough childhood growing up, pretty much from the time she was born until she moved in with us,” said Dancy who hopes her niece’s story can inspire other teenagers and their extended families to stick it out during hard times and to get involved. “The abuse, the issues were never really addressed like they should have been.”
Dancy views her niece as going from one troubled household to the next, although she admits upon returning to Florida and the custody of her mother, the teen was facing a different type of abuse. She contacted Child Protective Services in December, right before the third of her Marjuanee attempted suicides, and made a complaint against her sister and her then boyfriend for mental abuse toward her niece. But according to Dancy nothing was done.
“Child Protective Services didn’t feel the need to remove her because mental abuse is really not as great as physical abuse in their eyes,” said Dancy as she told of a mile long run from Jordan Park where the teenager lived to Dancy’s house to find sanctuary on the day the mental abuse escalated.
“It’s really sad to see that kids have to go through this,” Dancy said stating local authorities attributed the strife to rebellious teenage angst. “It wasn’t that,” Dancy continued, “because if it was, I would be going through problems with her right now. You can only mask something for so long; eventually that mask is going to come off.”
So she took matters into her own hands. After speaking with her sister, Dancy was allowed to take in her niece and things seem to be looking up for Marjuanee who has had a lifetime of trouble.
Dancy said her niece, who attends John Hopkins Middle School, has improved her grades and made honor roll after coming to live with her and her family, which consists of three children, grandkids and her fiancé of nearly four years.
Dancy attributes the change in attitude to a change in environment and the introduction of a family based on mutual respect and guidelines.
“She has done a 180, you can just see the resilience in her,” said Dancy who truly believes that there is a saving grace to all the hardships her niece has endured over the years. “She can really inspire kids her age to never give up hope, to think positive.”
And even though Dancy is dealing with her own battles, she was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago, brain cancer recently and is out of work, she has made the decision to put Marjuanee’s life first.
By entering Marjuanee in the Campbell Park Beauty Pageant where she took first runner-up and again in TASCO’s annual Mayor’s Youth Showcase of Achievement, Dancy hopes to build self-esteem in her niece by showing her she is capable of accomplishing anything she puts her mind to.
“I cried pretty much from the time I got there till it was over,” said Dancy about watching her niece blossom on stage.
The burden of providing for the family rests squarely on the shoulders of Dancy’s and her fiancé because she receives no assistance from Marjuanee’s parents.
A family member to take you in when things get rocky at home isn’t a situation that a lot of teens find themselves in. Most young adults take for granted a safe place to lay their heads, until there’s trouble.
In fact, in Pinellas County teens are fighting for a place to live every day. According to a 2012 statistic, the Tampa Bay area ranks number one in the nation for homelessness, with about 16,000 homeless people and one in five of them is children.
But for one 13 year old, it seems there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. Dancy has dreams of adopting her niece, but knows there are too many obstacles in her way. Instead she will settle for being a guiding force in Marjuanee’s life and encouraging her to follow her dreams.
“There’s just been so many great positive things that are happening to her and I’m so happy that she has not allowed her past to define who she is today or who she’s going to become in the future,” said Dancy.
The young teen has hopes of attending college where she plans to become a lawyer and be a voice for the voiceless, the abused. Dancy contributes this career goal to the alleged abuse endured over a lifetime and believes with continued counseling and motivational support her niece can accomplish anything.
For now though, Dancy reveals the teen would like to share her story with other girls her age in the hopes of inspiring those who have been living with abuse to come forward and speak up. Dancy is currently looking for organizations who would embrace this opportunity and have a need for inspirational speakers.
“She feels [after] what she went through, she could probably talk and inspire the youth, especially around her age, to not give up,” Dancy explained, “to know that things are going to get better.”
The burden of providing for the family rests squarely on the shoulders of Dancy’s fiancé because she receives no assistance from her mother.