Story written by Rutgers Continuing Education

For 48-year-old Tishera A'mour, achieving her first bachelor’s degree at Rutgers University marks victory in overcoming a lifetime of adversities: a sexual assault at age 5. Becoming pregnant at age 11. Struggling as a single mother of four by 20. Two marriages destroyed by her husbands’ drug use. 

“I realized I had the opportunity to rewrite my whole story,” said A'mour. “I’m going to be able to leave a legacy for my grandchildren to carry on even in the face of hardship.”  

The full-time NJ Transit bus driver and founder of a nonprofit supporting sexual assault victims is about to earn a BA in social work and will begin her Master of Social Work at Rutgers School of Social Work in the fall. A'mour’s parents, daughters, aunt, and best friends will be cheering as she walks at Rutgers’ commencement on May 12.  

“I care about people who’ve been counted out. I was one of those people,” A'mour said. 

In 2021, two decades after earning a high school GED, A'mour enrolled in Rutgers Statewide. The program, managed by Rutgers’s Division of Continuing Studies, allows students to earn undergraduate degrees at one of six community colleges. She initially attended online due to the pandemic, and then took courses at Atlantic Cape Community College’s Mays Landing Campus

That same year, A'mour was invited by AVANZAR, a nonprofit for sexual assault victims, to share her experience in an advocacy video. A'mour planned only to talk about getting pregnant at age 11 by a 24-year-old. A'mour did not know she was pregnant until she was six months along, and it became apparent to family members. Nor did she understand she was the victim of a crime. 

A Dark Secret

A'mour shared another story, a dark secret: when she was 5, a teenage neighbor in Atlantic City invited her and a cousin into her apartment to play with Barbie dolls. When the cousin left, the 15-year-old girl sexually assaulted A'mour with the toy. “She said, ‘you better not tell anyone because you’re going to get in trouble,” A'mour recalled. Back at home, A'mour’s mother saw telltale signs of an assault and called for an ambulance.  

“For 40 years, I locked that story inside,” she said, tears brimming. “I would like to tell that 5-year-old girl, it’s OK to talk about it.” 

The neighbor was charged, as was the rapist six years later, but the damage was done. A'mour has few happy memories from childhood. She had a second child at age 14, moved out of her family home and in with her grandmother, then dropped out of high school in 10th grade. By age 20, she had four children and was working as a nursing home aide. 

Finding her voice

Sharing what happened to her as a child felt momentous. “I began to find my voice as a victim of sexual assault,” she said. After the video’s release, A'mour began to hear from other women. “My inbox filled up with people saying, `it happened to me,’” she said.  

With her strong belief in God, A'mour embarked on a “faith walk” to heal herself and others. In June 2021, she rented space in Egg Harbor and opened Sacred Butterflies, a nonprofit for victims to share their stories with one another. “No survivor of sexual assault should feel they are alone,” she said. Her plan is to establish Sacred Butterflies across the U.S. 

Her interest in becoming a therapist had been sparked two decades earlier with her hiring at NJ Transit in 2000. “As a bus driver, you talk to people from all walks of life,” A'mour said. “I’m always giving advice on the bus!”  

One of those passengers more than a decade ago was a pregnant 16-year-old with no place to go. A'mour became a foster mother to both her and the child, and they remain family, she said. A’mour has a stepson from her first marriage.  

After the death of a beloved aunt in 2018, A'mour decided to take the plunge and get a college degree. “She had gone back to school in her 60s. I made a promise: if she did it, I could do it too, and honor her,” A'mour said. 

Overcoming Obstacles

In 2020, A'mour earned an associate degree from Atlantic Cape Community College, and then enrolled in Rutgers Statewide. The journey was difficult. She was working full-time, running her nonprofit, going through a tumultuous divorce, and trying to scrape together enough money for tuition. At one point, she had to take a pause, unable to afford it. 

Elizabeth Moore, associate program manager of Rutgers Statewide on the campus, encouraged her to apply for financial aid. “She was in my ear, saying, ‘you’re going to come back!’” A'mour recalled. “Elizabeth is a guiding light. She’s like a soft landing,” the Mays Landing resident said. “She wants you to win.” 

A'mour took on her last name as part of the divorce, shedding her married name and opting not to retake her maiden name. “Every name I had carried pain with it. I didn’t want to be in pain anymore,” she said. “I choose to walk in love.”