By Luciana Chavez, Special to Merced College

We are here today for Deshunna Monay Ricks because the Fresno Pacific University professor recently published two books that herald her personal story to the world.

We are here at all because the Merced College and Fresno State alumna sculpted her life’s mission from a rocky childhood.

“I tell people, ‘You’re the answer to someone’s prayer,’” said Ricks, the day after Hand in Hand Mentoring of Fresno gave her an award for her ‘I Have Value’ program. “I believe that for myself. I show up in my purpose so that others can experience healing and wellness from the hard things they have experienced.”

Ricks recently launched I Have Value LLC to support her mission to coach people to wellness. Her goal is for everyone to identify and embrace their value to the world.

Her initial move was publishing children’s books entitled “I AM VALUABLE” in November and “I AM DETERMINED” in January.

The first book tells the story of a lonely, scared child in foster care. The second is about a sad, angry teenager who is determined to change his stars after a stay in juvenile hall. A third book, written from an adult’s perspective, is coming.

The trilogy encapsulates Ricks’ life story and her professional ethos, that life’s hardships need not equal a hard life.

FALSE START

Ricks lived those stories.

When she was 5, Ricks and her siblings were taken from their parents. She and her sister were separated from their brother in different foster homes. Their paternal grandmother became their foster guardian, but living without parents from age 5 to 18 traumatized Ricks.
“I thought I wasn’t loved,” Ricks said. “I thought I was unworthy because I didn’t have my parents.”

Ricks masked her “brokenness” as a girl by becoming an exceptional basketball player at Fresno’s Edison High School. She met Merced College coach Allen Huddleston Sr. and headed north to play for the Blue Devils.

Huddleston guided her to a basketball scholarship at NCAA Division II Alderson-Broaddus University in Philippi, WV, in the summer of 2004. He and his wife are now godparents to Ricks’ son, Va’Ron Mitchell.

Ricks crossed the country to take her shot, but five months of snow, bad food and culture shock, as one of 20 black students on a campus of 2,300, sent her sprinting back.

While some might chastise her for giving up, the truth was more intense. Ricks’ childhood trauma was doing a number on her. Crushing doubt forced her home.

Seven months later, she was pregnant with Va’Ron and done with basketball. It took another 10 years before she understood her value wasn’t wrapped up in sports, a man or absent parents.

RESTART

We share that so Ricks can make this point.

“It took me while to realize I was worthy and valuable,” she said. “I had to find self-love and self-compassion to redefine who I was.”

Ricks, trying to repay the financial aid she’d received at Alderson-Broaddus, was working in a group home when her supervisor encouraged her to study social work. She eventually earned her B.A. in it from Fresno State, before getting an M.A. in counseling.

Ricks worked as a counselor until she grew weary of a system that was built to help, but set up to fail. Eventually, her misgivings motivated her to pursue an Ed.D. at Brandman University. She wanted a voice. She needed those letters.

While earning her doctorate, Ricks said she answered the Lord’s call to write a book, but twice shelved the project between 2018 and 2020.

“But working with elementary students during the pandemic, I saw their joy for learning dwindling,” Ricks said. “I wanted them to read these books to see, whatever happens in life, you can overcome it with perseverance.”

JUMPSTART

Ricks works to flip the paradigm as both an adjunct instructor at Fresno Pacific and a member of the University of Michigan Diversity Scholars Network. She runs her for-profit LLC, but also does nonprofit coaching.

She has large ambitions.

“If children are exposed to this information and feel valued from a young age, we will see a shift in mental health, in crime, in unwanted pregnancy, in drug addiction,” Ricks said. “I want ‘I Have Value’ to be a global movement.”

Ricks is also developing a K-12 curriculum to support those goals.

“I want people to hear, ‘There is still purpose in your life. There is still magic in you,’” she said. “‘Somebody is waiting for you to believe in yourself so that they can see you and walk in their purpose, too.’”