The day I learned about university and the people who got me there

There they were. The ladies everyone had been talking about for weeks. They were a dynamic duo and came sporting their dark blue 21st Century Scholars polos and lots of brochures and paperwork. Mom said to me that morning, “KISHA, are you listening! Make sure you bring home the forms from the 21st Century Scholar people. It’s how you’re going to college.”

I clearly wasn’t listening before, but now she had my attention. My friends kept going on about Ball State, no Purdue, no IU. They were talking about majors, minors, bachelors, masters…I’m not sure. It was all a bit confusing. At 13 years old, this was the first time I’d heard these words. That was the week I learned about what happens after high school.

My mom and grandpa always encouraging and supporting. Here we are at the Wayne County Foundation awards dinner.

My mom and grandpa always encouraging and supporting. Here we are at the Wayne County Foundation awards dinner.

To say I was freaking out is an understatement. After all the hard work I put into passing math and pleasing my English teacher with meaningful poetry, I was worried all my efforts would lead to a future I didn’t want. Back then it was, ‘If you don’t graduate, you’ll end up at McDonalds. That’s the only place that’ll have you.” (In my best annoyed teacher voice).

Back to the lady in a dark blue polo, she had all the answers. I was scribbling furiously, as if my entire future relied on me understanding every bit of information she said. She was telling me that kids whose families earn below the income threshold get to go to college for free, but only if I take these papers home. Some nice man in a suit knew that without these papers, a girl like me would never have a life any better than her parents’. He knew that, no matter how smart I was or am, my family couldn’t afford to send me to university at $10,000 per year – not including the daily costs of eating and showering. Multiply that by 3, because each of my brothers would need to be supported, too.

So you see, even when I was doing everything right, and trying to make the best future for myself, which according to my teachers was by getting good grades, I needed the support of my community. It wasn’t just the man in a suit that made it possible for me to go to university. It was the ladies in the dark polos, Liz Ferris and Sue Skaggs, who answered all of my questions and took me to visit several universities. They talked me through all my options and learned as much about me as they could.

I made it - thank you, Rose-Hulman faculty and staff

I made it - thank you, Rose-Hulman faculty and staff

It's the people who took time to teach me how to raise money and kindly donated, so I could live in DC for 6 months at 16. There are many people who’ve helped me along the way. By trying to name them all, I risk missing out on many. This week, I’m especially grateful to Katherine at SOAR. She took a chance with me. I went to her with a not so clear vision of kids getting hands on and learning through doing. We planned a day where I could set up Bright Box, a creative space for kids to learn through doing, in front of the library in Parson Cross. This Wednesday, I’ll be bringing a kid’s makerspace to Parson Cross Library, paying it forward to the many kids who are like I was at 13, not really knowing what their options are. Wednesday was supposed to be Bright Box’s first event, but because I’ve had the support of the village, we’re going into the day having worked with more than 300 children.

Thank you for believing in me and supporting Bright Box.

Just some of the village supporting me at Sheffield Soup. Photo by Chris Bentley

Just some of the village supporting me at Sheffield Soup. Photo by Chris Bentley