Sina: “I’m 32 years old and my birthday was in February, so I just turned 32. I’m not from Fayetteville, but I did a lot of time in Fayetteville. I went to school in Fayetteville… E.E. Miller as a child, then I went to Anne Chesnutt, and I graduated from 71st high school. I left 71st and went to North Carolina Central University and did college there and then I came back because I found out I was pregnant with my daughter Taelyn. My parents are here and my dad’s in the military, so they stayed around because I had two sisters who were still in high school. So, this sorta became my home base…
So, when I came back and I had my daughter, she was the first grandchild on my side and my mother put her in a pageant at the mall. She did a Sunburst pageant and from there, we just knew it was something about her. She won that pageant, and she went on to win pageant after pageant. We went to Atlanta for Nationals, she’s won Miss Baby Fayetteville, Baby Cumberland County from the Cumberland County fair. She’s done the downtown parade where she went on a float, so since she’s been young it’s been this after this.
When she was about 3, someone at a pageant asked if she’d ever modeled. So, me being mom…this is my first child… you be scared to allow her to spread her wings and allow some other person to say “do this or do that.” We couldn’t deny there was something, some kinda’ spark about her. So, we allowed her to do this modeling thing. At this particular event they took her early. This was my first time letting her go, because with pageants I was always able to be right there. She did the modeling event from 9am and I didn’t get to see her again until 4pm and she was 3, so I had all kinda’ mom fits… because that’s our baby, like I said, she’s the first. When my daughter came down that runway… she glanced at us to check and seen we were there, but she never broke stride, she never went ‘that’s my mom!’ She walked down, she posed, and so from that moment we were like ‘okay…this is her… she does this.’ So, she continued to do pageants and she got offered to do New York Fashion week up in New York. That was real big, and to get down there of course we needed extra money, because like I said, I’m a single mom and everything she does, I do myself, and I have the help of my mother and father. This community… I had to put it out there on Facebook and say ‘hey, we’re trying to get little Taelyn to New York’ and it was the support of the community that really shocked me. They let me know ‘hey mom, you gotta keep going because not only do your family see it, the community sees it.’ So, they helped sponsor and a lot of people sent donations. We did a GoFundMe and used the Cash app and we were able to go to New York, and once we went to New York, our life kinda' blew open. She did a music video, and she just went to be involved in the local artist, Morray’s, video.
I’m low-key, someone was getting on to me saying ‘you stay on the back burner,’ but you know, she is my legacy. This is my only child. It’s her dream, but in order for her to get there, she has me. I’m not the model type… I don’t like taking pictures (laughter), I don’t like being in the forefront. I can design a whole play and I’m okay if my name is never on the program, that’s just how I’ve always been… With her naturally being the forefront, us together have this little thing we say, ‘Mommy and Tae, every day.’ It’s literally been like she’s my teammate. I mean, she’s my daughter of course and we have that daughter and mom (relationship), but with the modeling it’s kinda' like we dap each other up, like teammates… and she gets excited. So, with her doing all these things and she is 5, that’s all been in a 2 year span and then COVID just kinda' shut things down. We had to sit out for a year and I can only imagine what could have happened had we not took that time off. Since coming back, and opening up, she’s done Charlotte Scene about 3 weeks ago, and was in Columbia International Fashion week, and she has something real big coming up with American Next Top Model. So, I want to inspire people to go into your children’s dreams. This started when she was only a few months and she is only 5, so we never know what can happen. Sometimes it’s a lot of work… I teach, I’m a teacher here and teach math and science. I’m a new teacher and I’m doing my Master’s, so personally sometimes I’m like ‘why am I following my 5 year old? She should just be a regular 5 year old. Mommy’s trying to finish her Master’s… I coach cheerleading at 71st’, so personally I still have my own goals and I just turned 32, so I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do and what I want to be, but I have her right here with me (saying), ‘I want to model, I want to own a business. It doesn’t seem that hard to me.’ So when the world shut down and she couldn’t model for a while, she got the chance to meet Jojo Siwa and she was like ‘she has a business…why can’t I?’ and that’s when her brand ‘Tailor Made by Tae’ was born. Tae, what do you sell at your business?
Tae: “Lip gloss, shower bombs with matching headbands, and key things, and safety sayings.”
Sina: “And so, we couldn’t just do one thing. I wanted to just do lip gloss, but she also wanted to do bath bombs and she constantly reminded me that this is HER business. She calls me… what am I Tae?”
Tae: “My assistant (laughter).”
Sina: “I’m her assistant (laughter).”
Tae: (whispers playfully to her mom) “And if you don’t listen, then I’ll call you my servant (laughter).”
Sina: “As you see, the personality is definitely there (laughter) and she makes that clear. Being that she’s so young, the first thing people assume is that I’m putting her out there, but she wants everyone to always know that this is hers… her dream… what she wants to do, and she dedicates a lot of time. Surprisingly, with her being so young, I transformed part of my guest room into her little office and from time to time I’ll joke with her ‘that’s my office!’ and she’s like ‘no, that’s my office!’ So, with the modeling and her business, I just listen to her. I listen to what ideas she’s had and that’s how we’ve been able to grow and add different things…
Being here in Fayetteville with people who have seen me at her age, who’ve seen me grow up, or who maybe coached me, and now see I have a daughter here, we want to show that not only did y’all raise me to be a strong woman who could stand on my own even with a daughter, but now look at her. When you give in to these kids and show them something, you never know what they can become. Like I said, I’m a science teacher and my daughter has been my own personal experiment of what can happen when you just invest in your kids and just pour into their dreams. As a kid, their imagination is so vivid and intangible. She says things and in my adult mind I’m thinking ‘oh, yeah right,’ but then sometimes I sit back and think about it like ‘how can we make that happen?’, you know? And, it really can happen. She’s even given me some of that courage back that we miss as a kid because you get told ‘no, you can’t do this, you can’t do that.’
Tae: “Mommy, stop playin’.”
Sina: “(laughter) Yeah, she has a little song she like by Lay Lay and she says ‘stop playing with me,’ and so when I’m like ‘well Tae I don’t know…’, she’ll say ‘stop playing’ and we can figure out how to get it done.”
Tae: “Stop playin’ (sings quietly in the background).”
Sina: “Yeah, that’s her little theme song, so she loves that song. I love that about her. Not only does she believe in herself, she believes 1. Mommy’s gonna figure out how to get it done, but you know, we’re gonna get it done.”
Tae: “(whispers to mom) and 2. You’re gonna listen to me, that’s my rules.”
Sina: “You know sometimes she says ‘and you’re gonna listen to me’ and I think ‘how do I take that?’ but ultimately as a mom, I love that she knows I’m going to listen, because you know, I had an open relationship with my mom and I call her all the time. But, there are some kids out there that don’t feel their parents will listen. It’s a kid out there that could probably play football, but might not feel like their parent would listen that they want to do these type of things, you know? It’s bigger than what we’re doing. You never know. I’m a teacher and we know what teacher’s make, but it doesn’t matter how much money you have… it doesn’t matter what background you come from. We started this with one day my mom throwing her in a pageant and we were like ‘ok, let’s keep taking a step forward…’. It’s big and if I leave anything behind, I always say (points to Tae), this is my legacy. My ancestors before me had theirs and from everything before me, now I can teach her: ‘you don’t have to be afraid of anything or to try anything.’ With her being in pageants and being in the modeling world, it has taught her that she can walk in front of a crowd of people and not be fearful and not be timid. She requires the room to know who she is instead of feeling like she’s in a room all by herself. As a woman, that’s an inspiration to ME. I’m like ‘wow!’ As a grown up, I may walk into a room with a bunch of business people and self-doubt, but watching her, now I walk in and I don’t care if I’m dressed to the best or not. So, it’s just been an eye opener in the experience of motherhood, because as you know, we don’t get a book on that (laughter)! Also, just watching an individual that I created flourish and show other little girls... She has other little girls that ask, ‘how do you do that?’ And she’s a little role model. Spending that time to listen to her I’ve learned so much. She could be a little comedian and I love that. If I could tell anybody or have a platform to talk to moms, I would say ‘you know, take that time out. It’s stressful and Lord knows it is, but take that time out to ask your child “what would you like to be?”’ We’ve gotten away from that…never shut them out because of their age. I never want to discourage her dream because she’s only 5…”
“I was born and raised here in Fayetteville, North Carolina, so I’m technically a Fayetteville native. I’m a military brat, so I was born at Fort Bragg… my whole life I’ve been around the military, so it’s easy to see why the career I’m in now revolves around veterans and active duty service members. I work more in the education section, so I assist active duty service members and veterans in the evening program for Methodist University… I help in admissions and coordinating their schedules.
Behind all the ‘masks’ that I wear and everything I’m involved with in Fayetteville, I see that everyone has a story, and my story is finding justice for my brother (tearful)… sorry… umm… even working with the military, sometimes it’s hard because in the back of my mind I still think of my brother and how there’s no justice for him… but I still persevere and try to find strength and resiliency in helping the community, whether it’s with education or being a volunteer peer mentor for TAPS. TAPS is a tragedy assistance program for survivors, so I mainly help with gold star families. If they lose a service member, whether they were a veteran or active duty, they can seek out TAPS for someone to talk to. If they need resources for counseling, education, or financing, TAPS has a lot of resources to help our military community and it doesn’t matter how long ago the military member passed away. I volunteered for TAPS because of my brother… I found them a little over a year after he died, and they’ve pretty much saved my family and I (pause)… in our grief process… it’s a long journey. You don’t move on in life, you just move forward with your ‘new’… I guess you could say ‘new mask.’ It’s hard, but in my soul, I feel I’m such a people person… I always want to help others and to this day I just keep pushing. Now I’m studying for a second master’s degree to get licensed in counseling so I can help future people through anything, but I specifically want to help military families.
Being in TAPS, they just ‘get it’… it’s being with family members who also lost someone who served. My first meeting was actually in Charlotte. They had a sibling’s retreat, so in a four-and-a-half-day retreat I got to meet other siblings who’d lost their loved ones (brother or sister), whether it was homicide, or suicide, or in war… we all connected. It’s easier to connect with people like that than talking to a regular counselor or someone who hasn’t had that same loss... pain. TAPS creates long-lasting bonds and like I said, they help with so much in the community. They’re trying to put at least near every base a TAPS care group. We actually have one here in Fayetteville that many people don’t know about. We meet the first Saturday every month. Not right now due to COVID, but there are Zoom meetings and if people have lost a loved one that served or was active duty at the time of their tragedy, they can go to TAPS.org and research their local care group or next meetings to help them through their grief journey.
Since 2017 when (my brother) was tragically killed in Raleigh, I felt like I needed to be his voice… his voice for justice, his voice to carry on… and try to pursue some the dreams HE still had. He was such a people person, always smiled BIG and the type of guy that was always there for others. That’s how my mom raised us, to always be a good person, hard worker, and still be there for other people. I just feel like when people look at my pin or see pictures online, they ask, ‘what’s your story?’ and ‘who’s that?’ I feel like if I keep sharing his story, people will know what type of good person he was and how I’m trying to live out his legacy to make him proud of me…(tearful)…
It’s hard… for my mom, I’m her only surviving child, so I gotta make sure she’s okay too, on top of trying to live my grief journey as well. We are a close family… very close knit… my brother and I are both Puerto Rican and Panamanian. He always said we’re ‘Panarican’… in his terms we ‘came from the best of both worlds.’ We love Panama and Puerto Rico. He loved traveling and was very Latino… he loved salsa dancing and pulling people on the dance floor. He loved when Fayetteville would do the International Folk Festival every year. Me and my family are always down here for the festival representing and wearing our Panama and Puerto Rico stuff. A few years before he passed away we both walked for Panama… and every year we’d visit Panama. It’s where my mom’s from, so… it’s beautiful watching that parade, all the countries here (at the International Folk Festival).
Is there anything else you would want people who read this to walk away from your story with?
You asked me ‘what’s my story?’ My story is also my brother, Jose’s, story, because it is not done. I would ask the community to help me spread the word if you see my page or the reward flyer for him… a simple click and share could benefit it, because you never know who’s watching. If they have any tips or know who did it, maybe they’ll come forward one day. We’ve created a Facebook page and Instagram page seeking justice for him. I think sharing can also lead to someone who maybe could help the Raleigh PD if the army can’t fully help, like some outside resources can come help Raleigh PD run more forensics or seek more information as to what happened that morning…”
To visit the ‘Justice for Spc. Jose Melendez, Jr.’ Facebook page, please click on this link: https://www.facebook.com/justiceforspcmelendezjr/
Please call Raleigh Crime Stoppers at 919-834-HELP with any information about this case.
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