Updated: May 3
A mother and daughter team with the deepest of connections, a powerful story of overcoming desperate odds and rising through inspired change to advocate for others.
We talked to Reverend Dr. Norma Stewart Heath and her daughter, author and CEO of Amron International, Ziona Rivera, about their inspirational life journeys, from addiction and coming out, to being a Harvard grad and published author.
Norma, tell us about how you felt when you hit rock bottom but knew this was it, you had to pick yourself up and make a massive life change and what gave you the strength?
Once I hit rock bottom, I felt suicidal. My soulmate had died in my arms and then I became homeless. I knew I had to change, or I was going to die as well. Prayer helped me to pick myself up and put the drugs down. Instead of self-medicating, I am prescribed Psychological medication. I also see a therapist and attend support groups.
Norma, how was it when you first walked through those Harvard University doors and when you finally walked out as a graduate?
I call it sneaking in the back door and walking out the front door baby. When I first walked through the doors of Harvard University, I felt nervous and scared. It kind of felt like I was not supposed to be there with my privileged classmates because I was homeless while I was taking classes. I had a small case of the impostor syndrome. I thought that I would never finish once I found out how many credits I needed to graduate. But I continued my education despite a serious psychotic break. Prayer, family and friends kept me going on a daily basis.
When I walked across the Harvard University Extension Graduation stage, I felt proud. I finally exhaled. I was confused and yet again scared. The next semester I attended Harvard University Graduate school. My goal was to get a PhD, I was derailed by God and ended up getting an honorary Doctorate of Divinity degree and dropped out of Grad school instead. I started my own business.
Norma, your story gives so much hope to so many, what advice would you give to someone suffering similar circumstances to yourself?
If anyone is suffering from substance use disorder or mental health issues, I suggest you practice forgiveness and self-care. Do not hold on to resentments. Understand that you have the power to change your situations at any time. Find your tribe, people that believe in you. Try recovery. And finally help someone out who is in your same situation.
Norma, which women inspire you and why?
This is hard, because I am inspired by many different women. But my number one inspiration is my mother. She is a strong woman and the most intelligent woman I know. My mother taught me how to be kind to others. When I was going through my many hospitalizations, my mother was there to help me with my children. There were times when me and both of my daughters were inpatient at three different psych hospitals and my mom would run around to all three hospitals bearing food and gifts. My mother gives to different charities and tries to help others with good, sound advice. I am grateful to my mother. She loves me unconditionally and never gives up on me.
Norma, you are the founder of Amron International tell us about the organization and work you are doing?
I started Amron International Organization to help underrepresented women. This year, we added services to men as well. We provide Mental Health Peer support, Recovery Coaching supervision, Literary services, spiritual consultation and public speaking. Our Clients/Peers are people in recovery from drugs and mental illness.
Ziona, how do you feel about your mom and seeing her transformation over the years, how did it affect you?
I feel extremely proud of my mom and I am grateful to have her. My mom’s transformation is truly a miracle. I prayed for her every day since I was a little girl and I am glad that, as a family, we were able to see those prayers manifest.
Ziona, tell us about your story, when did you know you wanted to identify as fluid and how you feel about coming out?
I realized I was bisexual when I was in my early adolescence; once I came out to my 6th grade class that I had a crush on my best friend (female), the kids started teasing me about something I thought was normal. I told my mother once I found out through a tv show and reading books. She was shocked! I now identify as fluid because I date and am equally attracted to men, women, and transgendered people as well. I am also polyamorous; I am in love with more than one partner. Coming out to my mom was very comfortable because she didn’t judge me; she later admitted to me that she always knew I wasn’t heterosexual because I was into men’s and boy’s clothes at such a young age. I still am a bit androgynous.
Ziona, what advice would you give to someone questioning their sexuality, where might they find support?
I would tell the youth who are questioning their sexuality that: Always staying true to who or what you are is always better than hiding who you are. The people who truly care for you and care about you will love you no matter what. For adults questioning their sexuality, I would suggest that they explore responsibly if they are unsure of how to identify what is going on. Research in both cases are necessary whether that be in a designated community setting, or online. There are plenty of resources and information available online. The most important thing is being true to yourself.
Norma, how did you feel when Ziona came out to you and what advice would you give to families of someone who is coming out?
I was not surprised, because she wanted to wear boy’s clothes. Yet I was concerned for her because, we come from a culture where that kind of stuff is a no no. I feel that people can love who they choose to love. As long as they love. Live and let live. Love and let love.
Ziona, you are a published author and public speaker, tell us about your work and what inspires you?
My work involves me taking my time to write my speeches for specific audiences and what messages to leave them with. My books are written throughout the struggles and joys in my life. Once I have written enough to publish an anthology, I use self-publishing software and promote it. I mostly donate my books as a networking tool. I am working on a self-help book and another anthology will be out soon.
Ziona, when did you decide to be involved in Amron International and what do you feel people should know about the important work Amron does?
My mother actually suggested I become the CEO of AIO in 2020 officially. We both felt I had so much drive and vision to take on the task. AIO 2020 is on “A Mission to Relate to Others Needs”; we do this by volunteering throughout the recovery community and giving back what was freely given to us. We don’t receive any money for our services or give out money, but we do plan on having some services that cost in the future, and continue to provide free services, and sell products.
"Necessity does not discriminate against race, religion, gender or creed. It is unbiased and unprejudiced. A need is simply a need." -Ziona Rivera, CEO
Norma and Ziona, can you tell us about any particular success stories you’ve had with anyone you’ve helped through Amron?
Norma: Jane was homeless when she came to AMRON. Now she has an apartment and a job. Jane is a Recovery Coach and she is now helping other homeless women in recovery.
Ziona: I have referred many people to AIO services and most of the time it is as simple as giving a reliable resource or accompanying a client to the resources. Like, Alex, who just needed information on finding a room to rent. He now has a stable living quarters. In the near future, AIO plans to connect with more people around the globe to offer virtual support groups and training in recovery.
Norma and Ziona, how can people help support the work you do at Amron International and what is your greatest hope for the future of Amron?
Norma: We are looking for prayers. Also, we want people to know that we are here to help people in recovery to become successful. My greatest hope for AMRON is that we continue to grow and help those that want our help.
Ziona: My goal is to open our virtual doors to the world who are in need of non-clinical mental health and addiction recovery. We want to provide a safe, reliable, virtual recovery network.
Please visit Amron International Organization for more information about the work and services provided.
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