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Legacy Part II: A Story of Intergenerational Strength, Perseverance, and the Pursuit of Happiness and Higher Education by Chloe Williams

Cheewa James’ home is filled with family photos and objects. As she and her granddaughter Tayla look through photographs of ancestors and living relatives, masks, and hand-woven baskets, Tayla recalls memories with her grandmother and how they have shaped her. From Cheewa speaking at Tayla’s schools, community centers, and summits as a keynote speaker, to witnessing the assembly of her books on the Modoc war and history of the Modoc people, Tayla’s childhood was greatly shaped by Cheewa’s presence and guidance. She remembers her grandmother singing the last and only recorded Modoc song at her elementary school, and cites it as a core memory that instilled a sense of belonging, identity and pride which influenced a lot of who she is. 

Tayla graduated as Cadet First Sergeant from Grizzly Youth Academy and was offered a Navy AIRR contract. Although she unfortunately had to decline this contract due to injury, her quest for higher education did not end there. In many ways the strength and perseverance of her grandmother and her pursuit of higher education was a torch passed to Easterla. 

While pursuing her Associates Degree, Tayla had unknowingly become pregnant. While coming to terms with her pregnancy, she remained steadfast in school. At the same time as she was navigating her entry into parenthood, the complexities of figuring out co-parenting arrangements and separation, she continued pursuing her degree.

At 33 weeks, Tayla faced another unexpected turn of events. After a long day of moving from San Luis Obisbo to Sacramento and setting up for her baby shower immediately after, Tayla’s water had a placental abruption, sending her to the hospital. Within hours, Tayla was brought to the delivery room and Alana Nao Qui Jill Ellison-Easterla was born prematurely via emergency C-Section. 

Their battle wasn’t over, or even close to it. While Alana was placed in the NICU, Tayla still had exams to take. Just hours postpartum, with her first and only daughter in the NICU connected to tubes to help her breathe, facing endless speculation about her health and what her quality of life will look like in the long term, Easterla took her exams, determined to follow through with her academic pursuits and continue to work towards a better life for her and her daughter. Despite the challenges she faced, Tayla passed her exams, and after two months receiving care in the NICU, Alana was able to breathe on her own! 

Today, Tayla studies Business at California Polytechnic State University with a concentration in Quantitative Analytics. In addition to pursuing a degree from a program with a mere 18% acceptance rate, Tayla is also a Steering Lead for Justice + Joy’s IMPACT Steering Committee, an alliance of advocates building strategy for policy and systems change for young mothers and young parents across the U.S. 

As part of her continual advocacy, Tayla strives to amplify the needs of mothers of children with special needs and disabilities, and aims to educate herself and others on the needs and accommodations available for children with Prader-Willi Syndrome, a genetic disorder her daughter was diagnosed with during her two month stay in the NICU.

By sharing her lived experiences, expertise, and working in alliance with IMPACT, Tayla is confident she is making a difference. She carries the torch of her grandmother and great grandfather proudly and with incredible grace. If Tayla and her family’s story can teach us anything, it is the value of intergenerational strength, tradition, and the guiding and invigorating power of storytelling. 

Tayla recognizes the strength in herself, largely because she was raised to witness her grandmother’s strengths and hearing stories of her great grandfather’s perseverance and triumph. It is through her ancestors that she recognizes what seems impossible, is actually possible. 

By recognizing  herself in former generations, as well as the generations to come, that gives Tayla the power to, in her and Cheewa’s words, “Modoc up!”

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