A Fulbright for Javoen!

In 2008, Javoen arrived at Seattle Education Access and told the staff he wanted to earn a PhD. In fall 2016, Javoen started a PhD program at Howard University in Washington, DC and has received a Fulbright grant.

 As an African American male, I am often conflicted when I ponder the definition of the American dream. For much of America, it represents the ability to start from scratch, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, and have something to pass on to your children.

As a descendant of the slaves who were forced to work at backbreaking speeds sun up to sun down, this definition seems like an empty promise. I ask myself, “Didn’t my ancestors work hard for this country too?” As much as we have sacrificed for this country, I wonder why I, as a black male, am still the symbol of malevolence in America.

Born in a society filled with so many contradictions and unsubstantiated accusations about marginalized groups, I would say that my American dream is to live in a society where the aims of those who desire social justice are realized, and where marginalized groups are given educational and economic equality.  It is towards this end that I aspire to attain my education, in order to make a difference in my community and the overall American society.

Growing up in a single parent household with younger twin sisters, I received plenty of insight into poverty, stressful parent-child relationships, and also the sense of obscurity that many young African American males feel in adolescence. These personal experiences were the foundation for my passion for social justice.

The zip code I was raised in, 98118, is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the United States. In South Seattle, opportunities to interact with children from different backgrounds were endless. I made friends from West and East African backgrounds. I also lived down the street from a conga drummer of Puerto Rican descent. By thirteen, I understood Spanish fluently. In a community where athletics and hip-hop culture were the only acceptable norms for young Black men to emulate, I stuck out like a sore thumb.

I made a very real decision in my teens to choose to pursue African and Afro-Caribbean music. I chose to dance over    being an easy target for gang violence and other dangers of the inner city. I did, however, participate in youth outreach groups. I volunteered under Wyking Garrett, a community organizer in Seattle’s Central District. Along with some of my peers, I helped transform an old, dilapidated crack house into a community center.

I attended The Evergreen State College, a school known for its commitment to social justice.   Occasionally, you could find me drumming on the campus lawn with a tip bucket in order to make gas money to make the trip back home. One of the school staff saw me one day and invited me to his office. While I was in his office, he explained that as the student activities director, his job was to book musicians for school performances. His experience with cultural artists prompted him to suggest that I turn my talent for drumming into a business. Within three months, I created my independent business, Awodi Drumming. Through Awodi Drumming, I was able to contract with local libraries, school districts, and finally a state juvenile detention center.

My work in the youth facility consisted of me teaching African dance and drum techniques in preparation for their Black History Month celebration. The young males in the detention center were phenomenal. At first I tried to teach them basic festive African dances, but this did not relate to them at all. I then decided to teach them a war dance: a dance of freedom and liberation. The young men took off with it. I observed as these men danced proudly. I told them the stories of the African warriors who protected their communities with their lives. It was as if they had found a sense of purpose. I continued to work in Seattle with Black youth while obtaining my Bachelor’s degree, and also became the Black Student Union president between 2012 and 2013.

My college experiences allowed me to challenge my way of thinking about the world. For example, I was afforded the opportunity to travel abroad to Nigeria multiple times. I observed West African cultural systems and noticed that indigenous West African communities had specific rituals and customs intended for youth to foster healthy emotional development and self-identity. These rituals had effects similar to resilience that I observed in young males in the detention center learning African dance. My study abroad experiences influenced my interest in developing methods of culturally relevant therapies to help at-risk youth cope with academic and social challenges, which often are due to the socioeconomic disparities they are faced with.

We all have our own ways to contributing to building a socially just society. Over the years I have learned African culture is mine. I will continue doing this at Howard.”

– Javoen

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A Report on the Nation’s Nongraduates

“Despite the many, serious difficulties many young people face that prompt them to leave school — homelessness, poverty, a parent’s illness, addiction, imprisonment or death — many find ways to come back.”

Read more here: http://blogs.seattletimes.com/educationlab/2014/06/26/dont-call-them-dropouts-a-report-on-the-nations-nongraduates/

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Congratulations SEA Grads!

We are excited and proud to see so many of our SEA students graduate this June! 2014062695184101

SEA Education Advocates have had the honor or cheering students on at graduation at schools including Big Picture High School, Renton Technical College, Seattle Central College, South Seattle Community College, and Green River Community College.

Congratulations SEA Grads!

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Read NY Times Article: Is College Worth It? Clearly, New Data Say

“A new set of income statistics answers those questions quite clearly: Yes, college is worth it, and it’s not even close. For all the struggles that many young college graduates face, a four-year degree has probably never been more valuable.

The pay gap between college graduates and everyone else reached a record high last year, according to the new data, which is based on an analysis of Labor Department statistics by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. Americans with four-year college degrees made 98 percent more an hour on average in 2013 than people without a degree. That’s up from 89 percent five years earlier, 85 percent a decade earlier and 64 percent in the early 1980s.”

Read NY Times Article: Is College Worth It? Clearly, New Data Say

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Meet SEA Alum Victoria

ImageVictoria recently graduated from Renton Technical College, earning an AAS degree and a certificate in Medical Assisting. She is now working as a Medical Assistant.Her goal is to earn her Bachelor’s in Nursing and become a registered nurse. In the words of one SEA staff member, “When Victoria walks into the room, the whole room lights up with her energy and compassion. I can’t imagine anyone I would rather have as a nurse.”

I was drawn to the medical field because it’s my way of giving back. My dad passed away in 2006 of heart disease and losing him was hard. I cared for him during his final illness and have also always taken care of my mother, who is disabled. These experiences helped me realize that I am a gifted caretaker and that nursing is a meaningful profession that I can take pride in. The people who helped my father at the hospital were compassionate to us.

I’m a very caring and outgoing person. I can talk to anyone. I also like that there is always advancement in the medical field. You can be a doctor or work in medical technology. Medicine is always advancing; for example, robotic surgery is becoming more common. Job security in the medical field is another aspect that appeals to me. I can make a living wage with excellent benefits while doing something that is important to me.

While I was still in high school, I earned my Certified Nursing Assistant certificate through Running Start. I worked for several years as a CNA. I next enrolled at Seattle Central Community College, planning on getting my Associate’s degree and taking the prerequisite courses for nursing. Unfortunately, I did not have the financial resources I needed to stay in school, and had to take time off to work full time to support myself, my mother, and my younger siblings. Throughout this time away from school I never gave up on my dream of returning to college, and Seattle Education Access did not give up on me either.

After losing a job, I went on unemployment and applied for worker retraining, which extends your unemployment benefits. I was then able to support myself while going back to school. I transferred to Renton Technical College, and SEA awarded me a scholarship. The SEA staff helped me write letters to the unemployment program and proofread my scholarship application essays. They helped me fill out the financial aid paperwork, supported me with tutoring, and paid for my certification test and study guide. SEA has been a backbone throughout my education. Anything I’ve needed, they have provided. I would have made it no matter what… I have that unbreakable faith. But having good support systems to help us along makes a big difference.

I am the first person in my family to graduate from college, and although I now have my AAS I will not stop until I reach my goal of a BSN. To other young people I want to say: Follow your dreams and your heart. Stay encouraged no matter what obstacles you may face in life. If you have a goal, go for it. Whatever your dreams are, you can be anything you want to be. You have to have faith that “no matter what, I’m going to be successful.” You have to work hard and do things whole-heartedly.

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Video: SEA Alums Share Their Stories

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SEA alums do great things! Thousands of people have come to SEA to help them achieve their goals and dreams. Here are three of the thousands of SEA student and alum stories. You can watch Anttimo, Fabiola, and Javoen share their story here: SEA Alum Stories

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Ashley’s Story

ImageIf I lay out my life, it may be easy to draw out hardship, but attitude mixed with action has birthed solutions.

Seven years ago I suffered hospitalizing, life-threatening trauma to my right femoral artery, and damage to my femoral vein and nerve. I am now left with reliance upon mobility devices. My leg hasn’t been the same since. My life hasn’t either. This initial injury was a direct result of my intravenous heroin and cocaine addiction. I have been clean since October 31st, 2010. Rebuilding my life meant going to school, but my struggles with poverty, mobility, and homelessness have been barriers seemingly impossible to overcome.

Homelessness has given me great challenge. Near the end of my first year sober, I had surgery and lost my housing. A good friend took me in, monitored my medication, helped me dress, and even bathed me. After ten days, I went to the next couch, while I paid daily visits to the holder of my meds to get my prescribed dose. In order to stay clean, I had to be accountable to somebody besides myself.

When school started, I didn’t know which alley or doorway I would sleep in; or, if I was lucky, whose couch I would sleep on, and if I’d be safe. I had to choose a use for my good shoulder: a backpack weighted with school supplies, or my cane? Still wearing a sling, I left behind my cane in exchange for the backpack and my heavy limp. Every day while traveling, at some point, the pain would become too much to bear. I would have to stop to rest, to cry, to pray.

Recovering from addiction and the condition of my leg has taught me how to succeed. Patience was a lesson I learned. It is a tool I keep hold of, for it brings me peace even when everything in my life seems to be a morass.

Every fall and winter, crosswalks daunt me. On my way to school, I’ll begin to walk across a crosswalk, depending on my walker to enable my journey to the other side of the street. Halfway through the crosswalk, the light usually changes, but I’m unable to move any faster. Each step promises pain so severe, it’s like an electrical cloud that radiates from the insides to the surfaces of my leg, and reverberates up my spinal cord. Shoulders tense. Eyes squint. Heart pounds. Tears trail. Everything tells me to stop walking. But I don’t. Displeased drivers wait for me, edge close to me, a silence louder than any horn. I feel powerless, but not hopeless. On and on and on I edge, until my goal (the street corner) is met. To make it, I have to look down at what is relevant: my next step. If I look up, an overwhelming distance will distract me from my path, for I can’t get to the corner in a leap. Instead I must take painful baby steps. The result is a perception change, a reminder of how to live: set long-term goals and focus on progression, not on a utopia that is yet out of reach. If I focus on where I am not, then I might lose track of where I am.

I would not have gotten across any crosswalk if I didn’t have a ground to walk on. My independence depends on something outside of me. 

Seattle Education Access (SEA) became that supportive ground. I worked with SEA to go back to school. I began attending South Seattle Community College in Winter 2011, and then transferred to the University of Washington in fall 2013. When I started, I didn’t have any money, nor did I have any place to live. But I knew that moving forward was so much better than what was behind me. I couldn’t have done it alone and I knew that there was support out there. Seattle Education Access helped me get a home and helped me get food. My Education Advocate, Danika, even took me to the store and went grocery shopping with me. SEA also got me special shoes, which allowed for less time walking with my walker. They were like walking on clouds! I’ve learned that it’s important to be humble and ask for help, for the people I have seen succeed are the people who are willing to ask for help.

I graduated from SSCC with a 3.99 GPA and earned the President’s Medal. I have earned all 4.0s in my first quarter at the UW. The UW is a big school which has been physically challenging. Every day, I walk and sit through pain, but all these are irrelevant to the big picture. Though it hurts, it’s just another step to reaching my potential. The pain is worth it. I’m truly fulfilled. Today, I’m really studying what I want. That’s why it’s worth it, I get to wake up and read the books I really want to read. It’s so exciting. I’ve found a passion.

Linguistics and writing are my edifications. I am fascinated with language, how it works in the brain, the evolution of language and how meanings of words change, and mostly, the affect language has on one’s perception of reality. One of my long-term goals is to become a college professor so I may pass on my ardency for the academia of language. Another goal is to finish writing the book about the life I used to live. The intent to write this is for its cathartic process, and most emphatically, it’s something I want to accomplish to reach out to at least one other person who is as hopeless as I used to be. I was a street hooker strung out on crack/cocaine and heroin, destined, or so I had chosen to believe, to die as a result of that lifestyle. This is far from my truth today. Socrates is often quoted with, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” I understand this because for most of my life I didn’t live. Language allows me to live.

I have a passion for letting people know that they are worthy of a chance, too.  As Seattle Education Access, the disability resources at school, my educators, friends who have lent me nights on their couches, and those who’ve shown me that I could recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body have helped me, I aim to do for others as well. This is why I volunteer my time as an English tutor. This is why I yearn to write my story. This is also why I desire to become a professor. It’s because working with others is the sustenance of my growth, fulfillment, and success.

For living, passions were born, and gratitude for them has propelled me through adversity. 

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