Jovana Smith, who is Black, female and from a low-income community, recalls wearing headphones to block out the sounds of her South Central Los Angeles neighborhood. Daily, she blocked out a soundtrack of guns, drug deals, catcalls, and prostitution activities. She recounted a scene in high school, where upon hearing that her Algebra teacher’s son was going to UC Riverside, she exclaimed that she wanted to go there too. Her teacher told her that she would, “never get in” and laughed in her face.
Rather than let the experience eradicate her self-esteem, she instead used it to prove her professor wrong. She would prove that she could go to college. And thanks to a chance meeting with a Fulfillment Fund mentor during her junior year of high school the chance of her achieving her goal accelerated.
Her Fulfillment Fund mentor alerted her to a full ride scholarship opportunity with Marymount California University. She would rise above all other applicants to become a recipient of that scholarship, relieving herself of the financial stresses of attending university and granting her a doorway out of South Central.
African-Americans are disproportionately affected by poverty and low high school graduation rates. Their educational deficiencies serve as a roadblock to obtaining competitive salaries and have long-terms effects on their social income statuses and monetary attainment.
“African-Americans suffer from a poverty rate of 27.2 percent—the highest of any group—compared to 25.6 percent of Latinos, 11.7 percent for Asians and 9.7 percent for whites” (The Grio). Females in particular are disproportionately affected by poverty. Just 5 of 10 low-income students graduated high school in 2014 (The Fulfillment Fund). That means that African-Americans are more likely to be both low-income, which negatively affects their educational attainment.
In the 2011–2012 school year, some 3.1 million public high school students, or 81 percent, graduated on time with a regular diploma. Among all public high school students, Blacks had the lowest graduation rate of any measured racial group—68 percent (National Center for Education Statistics).
However, in the arena of Black educational attainment, there is good news to accompany the bad. The percentage of Blacks ages 16-24 who are not enrolled in school and have not earned a high school credential, fell from 13 to 7 percent from 1990-2013. This is largely believed to be the result of the No Child Left Behind Act and community driven social programs such as the Fulfillment Fund, a non-profit with a mission to increase educational attainment for individuals from low income backgrounds.
To date, more than 10,000 Fulfillment Fund mentees have attended college. Let’s keep that number increasing.
Jeremy Bamidele is journalist, publicist, and adjunct professor based out of Los Angeles, California. His work has been published in Forbes, Huffington Post, PR Week, JET Magazine, and numerous newspapers across the United States. He is an alumnus of UC Berkeley and a current graduate student at the University of Southern California. He can be reached at Jeremy Bamidele@gmail.com.