Freshman at College

My phone chirps this afternoon – it’s Derjanai texting me: “Mrs Becky, I can say that Coppin’s improving my reading skills. I read more and faster than before I think it’s because of my reading class.” This out of the blue…she’s always thinking. I type back, “Good to hear. I know at some colleges the reading gets totally overwhelming.” We go back and forth a bit then she texts, “At first it was like, ‘why am I here?’ Because it’s 2 hours of class and reading every night. But now it’s kind of ok. I hated reading but now it’s ok.”

It’s time to lift up Derjanai Thomas in celebration of her successful transition into college (with her permission! I checked).

I first met Nai Nai at the beginning of sophomore year at UrbanPromise Academy, our high school. She could NOT sit still. I kind of figured out why when I gave the class a life stressor survey – it listed common stressors for teens and assigned points – the higher your score, the more stressed you were. Anything over 200 was significant and the health book recommended counseling – Nai Nai scored 1250. 1250! She had lost a lot of loved ones that year. I wouldn’t have been able to sit still either…or maybe I would have been sitting too still, frozen in grief.

Nai Nai demonstrated grit, a stick-to-it-ness, throughout her time at UPA. Active in UrbanTrekkers and recognized for her leadership skills, her passion was history, and I recall that moment at the end of junior year when she scored a 100 on a paper that was hard won and well deserved. At the end of senior year, she was accepted to Coppin State University, located in Baltimore, MD. Our dedicated volunteer and fellow First Presby Haddonfield member, Bob Lehman, took her down to tour right after the Baltimore riots this past spring. A historically black university, it seemed a great fit for this resilient young woman. But then there were the details of actually going to college. As the first in her family to go, there was little support and no familiarity with the process.

When we take our kids to college, it is not uncommon to pack up a mini van full, or a small UHaul of all the seeming “necessities” – matching bed linens, towels, wall hangings, clothes, furniture, etc. etc. I knew that Nai Nai did not have access to these niceties – it’s not uncommon for young people growing up in concentrated urban poverty to arrive at college with all their belongings in a garbage bag or 2. Thankfully at my fundraiser this past spring, I was able to introduce Derjanai to Andy Reinicker, who is chairperson of our church Deacons. He took it from there, and the email went out asking for support.

“What’s your favorite color Nai Nai?” Purple
“What do you think you need?” A desk lamp and one of those wall thingy-s (bulletin board)

then later…”Mrs Becky do you think there’s any chance I could get a bean bag chair?” this was after she was at Coppin for the summer program. Andy got a real kick out of this.

The Deacons’ response was overwhelming – I believe almost every member of this serving body of our church donated something. And 3 kind women took her out to lunch (text: “What should I WEAR???” response: “Whatever makes you feel confident”). Nai Nai knows there are people rooting for her, interested in her. There’s a power in that that can’t be measured.

I’m honored that she’s staying in touch. She’s keeping me busy editing her papers. She thinks her classes are too easy (thanks to expectations set at UPA) but I’m relieved she’s keeping up. I can see how she’s adjusting and growing, and how I’m making fewer edits. This gal is going somewhere, and it’s great to be along for the ride.


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