A Christian Liberal Arts University, Est. 1846

They Call Her Dynamite

  • By: Angelina Burkholder
  • Published: Feb 16, 2015 1:15PM
Ariel Ramirez is dynamite.

Caption: Ariel Ramirez is dynamite.

Three flags hang in her dorm room, proudly displaying her heritage for all to see: Mexico, Africa, and America. She hails from the hood of Evansville, where falling asleep to gunshots is ordinary.

But sophomore Ariel Ramirez refuses pity. She smiles. And laughs. And retorts sassily, “I’m glad my college experience isn’t a piece of cake. That’s not my life. That’s not Ariel.”

Raised in chaos

At age 10, Ariel didn’t care that she stood shorter than most of her peers. She lived behind a fist that packed the punch of a fighter. That's why they called her Dynamite. Had you told Dynamite she’d be at Taylor in eight years, she would have punched your nose bloody.

“I was very small, but very hostile and very quick to snap,” Ariel said.

She had plenty to fight about. With a long line of painful memories trailing behind her, Ariel turned to violence to cover the festering scars of rape, molestation, physical abuse, racial profiling, and poverty. She floated through her first years of school, where learning nothing and showing up with bruises seemed normal.

In fourth grade, Ariel left a diverse inner-city school to enroll in an all-white school. Culture shock greeted her at the front door. After evaluating her academic skills, teachers placed Ariel in a special education class and uncovered yet another setback: dyslexia.

“Everyone knew I was different,” Ariel said. “Now not only am I the colored kid, I’m the stupid kid as well as the poor kid and the new kid. It was just a lot, so I rebelled.”

Physical, verbal, and sexual abuse birthed Ariel’s anger, an anger that led to a whirlwind of changing schools, foster care, expulsions, and hospital stays. At home she cowered under the threat of abuse. On the streets, stifled emotions surfaced as raw rage.

One taunt lit her fuse. The mocking faces of her peers blew like wind on the angry flame. Boom goes the dynamite.

"Before I came to Christ, I was a very angry individual," Ariel said. "I was the bully. I inflicted pain on everyone else."

Escaping the cycle

In Ariel’s neighborhood, graduating high school was a luxury and the odds were stacked high against attending college. Without hope for her future, Ariel drifted through the beginning of high school, exerting just enough effort to fulfill basic requirements and prevent guidance counselors from contacting her absent mother and discovering her harsh home life.

Then Ariel found Jesus.

“I was a new Christian," Ariel said. "I wasn’t in a church. I just knew I loved God, that was it.”

Finding God marked the beginning of a passionate faith. With no church body to support her and no Bible of her own to learn from, Ariel’s transformation rooted solely in an intimate connection with a Father who, despite all the harsh and hateful voices around her, claimed to love and forgive her.

During her junior year of high school, police raided her mother's house and Ariel made another radical decision: move out. Even if it meant becoming homeless.

"An officer told me, ‘Ariel, you’re going to lose everything because you’re in this house, you know everything, you know what’s going on,’” Ariel said. “So I took that as God telling me, ‘Ariel, get out.’”

It took her mother six weeks to realize she was gone. Then Ariel decided to go one step further and get out of Evansville. Riding high on hope for the first time in her life, she sifted through post-high school options and decided to join the Navy. But a year later, Ariel took another hit. She was losing her sight.

After being diagnosed with Rod-Cone Dystrophy, a retinal defect that affects rod and cone photoreceptors, Ariel was forced to give up her Navy plans. But she refused to give up hope for a future beyond poverty and abuse. Despite her doubts, despite her background, despite her setbacks, Ariel decided to pursue college. And only Taylor would make her happy.

"I was like, 'Ariel, you don’t have money, you don’t even have a roof over your head. . . Can I go to a [Christian] college without knowing the Bible? I don't even own a Bible,'" Ariel said.

With no possible way of paying for Taylor, Ariel applied and prayed. After her personal interview on campus, Ariel called her Taylor counselor every week to see if she had gotten in. Four days after her birthday in January, a purple and gold certificate arrived at her high school with congratulations splashed across it.

“I was the happiest child alive," Ariel said. "I felt like I had just won a million dollars. I am graduating high school, I’m going to collegeI made it!”

She crossed one mountain, but another of $35,000 stood in front of her.

Beating the odds

The summer before her freshman year of college, Ariel was homeless and owned one backpack of clothes. After applying for countless scholarships, Ariel was still short thousands of dollars.

She had no idea how she would get to Taylor—financially or physically. But she was rich in faith, so she prayed: “Okay God, here I am again. I told you that if you get me in that means I’m going, but now you gotta come up with the money, because I can’t do nothing.”

Ariel waited for provision. Several weeks later, after a family took her in, bought her clothes and school supplies, paid her tuition, and drove her four hours to Upland, Ariel moved in at Taylor.

A rough freshman year followed as Ariel learned to balance heavy class loads with her sight and learning disabilities. Through it all, she battled prejudice and ignorance from others, but her faith remained constant.

"I hate when people say, 'Oh, she’s disabled,'" Ariel said. "No, I have a disability, but don’t diss my ability. I can do anything. God might take my sight from me, but He has blessed me with my voice. I don’t need my sight. I can be whoever I want to be without my sight."

Her voice quickly became her new tool as her passions for race reconciliation, disability awareness, and criminal rehabilitation grew. Her new dream? Prison chaplain. Surviving a past riddled with horror was no easy feat. Now Ariel hopes to mentor children in juvenile detention centers to keep them from growing up in anger the way she did.

"I want to work with juveniles," Ariel said. "I've seen the gap. It’s not rehabilitating. If you come in there a criminal, you leave a criminal. If God needs to be anywhere, He needs to be in those places."

She knows their stories firsthand. She’s lived their horror and felt their anger. But she’s determined to let them feel her joy, to introduce them to her Savior, to help them glimpse a future.  

"They told me the only thing I would ever be good for is selling drugs, doing drugs, and having kids," Ariel said.

She lives in open defiance to those expectations.

She’s still dynamite. Never mind that the odds remain stacked against her. Her fist gave up violence, but her heart beats on with the determination of a fighter.

"As long as you do the possible, He will do the impossible," Ariel said.