“I wanted something better”

danisha3My name is Danisha and I am a student at Central Washington University’s branch campus in Des Moines. Next August, I will graduate with a BS in Social Services. My goal is to become a counselor for at-risk youth.

In 2008, I was in high school but falling behind rapidly in credits and did not feel focused. A friend told me about Renton YouthSource, where I could get diploma on a flexible schedule and it was one bus from my house, so I decided to try it out. I immediately liked the staff and felt the program provided far more support than I had received in traditional high school. It was really what I needed at the time. I quickly picked up my studies and was able to graduate on time in 2009.

After graduating high school, I was not sure what to do next. I worked a series of jobs to pay the bills, but that I didn’t enjoy – call center, in-home care, nursing assistant at an assisted living facility. Then, in 2011 I ran into Kiana Davis, a staff member I knew from Renton YouthSource, who told me about Seattle Education Access.

In early 2012, I began working with Jeff Corey, an Education Advocate at SEA. I knew I wanted something better and that I needed to go to school in order to achieve my goals, but I wasn’t sure exactly how to get started. Jeff and I started meeting weekly at the library in SeaTac to create an education plan. I knew I wanted to help people and liked the idea of working with children and families. After investigating several options, I decided to pursue an AA transfer degree at Highline College and then a BA in Human Services.

My first quarter was very challenging I felt insecure about whether I was smart enough to be in college, and despite the fact I was passing my classes, this feeling wouldn’t go away. Then, near the end of the quarter, I found out I was pregnant. At first this felt like a wrench in my plans, but soon it became a new source of motivation. Going to school wasn’t just for me anymore. I had someone else to look out for. SEA went the extra mile to make sure I had everything I needed to stay in school, like tutoring, scholarships for books, quarterly planning, and moral support. Jeff provided a lot of affirmation along the way. It meant a lot to have someone that cared. I completed my first year at Highline with a 3.5 GPA then had my son over the summer.

By the end of September, I was back in school, taking online classes while raising my child. My second year was tough with the new baby, but I was really focused. I earned my AA degree in early 2015, and immediately found full-time work as a para-educator at Foster High School in Tukwila. Jeff worked with me to apply to several schools, but ultimately I decided to pursue a BS in Social Services at the Central Washington University branch campus in Des Moines.

I am thankful for all of the support I received from Seattle Education Access over the years. They have taught me perseverance; that no matter what obstacles life throws at you, you should never give up. With the right supports in place, you really can follow your dreams. I appreciate the full array of services SEA provides and the flexibility they offer.

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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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