From Bowen Homes to College: “I Have a Dream” Students Home for Holidays
(APN) ATLANTA — Sequoyah Smith, a junior at the University of Alabama, is home with her family for winter break. She’s an early childhood education major with dreams of opening up a child development center when she graduates.
Her story sounds like so many other college students, but in her family she will not only be the first to graduate from college, but is already the first to graduate from high school.
“Where we were from, we were from a low income family, so we didn’t really have like a lot of support; and with I Have A Dream Foundation, they just was somebody we could look toward if we had problems – like financially or anything,” Smith said in an interview with Atlanta Progressive News.
The “I Have A Dream” Foundation (IHAD) adopted 54 second graders from the now demolished Bowen Homes public housing project.
More than two-thirds have completed high school, and half have gone on to college.
According to IHAD, their students are twice as likely to earn a Bachelor’s degree as their low-income peers.
“I don’t know where I’d be without them,” Smith said.
Bobby Daniels is a senior at Tuskegee University majoring in political science, with eyes on pursuing a law degree after.
“[College has] been a growing experience… It teaches you a lot, it’s been the best thing I could’ve done,” Daniels said.
“Where we grew up, of course it was a tough place, but I Have A Dream really gave you stuff that the other students didn’t have a chance to get,” Daniels said.
Like Smith, Daniels is also the first person in his family to graduate from high school.
Both Daniels and Smith spoke positively about the array of opportunities they’ve had from the “I Have A Dream” Foundation program – including annual summer camp experiences that took them all across the country, mentorship programs,, and the Annual Dreamer Conference to help them connect with the over 17,000 alumni of the program across the nation.
Additionally, IHAD provides support for the “Dreamers,” as their students are called, to apply for colleges, attend campus tours, and receive financial aid. They also help students make up the “last dollar,” covering books, supplies, and other necessities of supporting themselves in college beyond just tuition.
Vicky Jackson, the Program Director of the Atlanta IHAD Chapter, has been working with the program since 2010.
“I honestly have to say it’s been a very rewarding experience, I’ve grown, they’ve grown, we’ve grown together. It’s almost like raising fifty or so foster children,” Jackson said in an interview.
Jackson visits her Dreamers each semester to check in on their progress and help them navigate the new and challenging environment college provides.
IHAD also works with students who want to pursue technical degrees or gain certification in other areas, with a focus on all students having the ability to truly capitalize on their talents and fulfill their dreams.
“We know with the program that we set a base for them, set a foundation for them go forward. What I try to teach them is that you give back, so some of the kids mentee other kids, and then they have younger brothers and sisters, and now they are teaching them about college,” Jackson said.
“I have friends who I went to school with who wasn’t chosen to be adopted and their outcome was way different from mine. I just think it’s a blessing to be in this program,” Smith said.
“This process has been a life changing experience, it’s a blessing,” Smith said.