The irony of hardship scholarships sometimes is that recipients would probably get to college without them.
That’s why these kids won. They’re fighters. Brains and grit.
Talk to Trina Durham and Takirah Carter for two minutes and you get the idea they would come up through a drainpipe to get to college.
Both grew up in impoverished neighborhoods of Kansas City, Kan. Either could have found reason to give up and decide that any old job would do.
Trina, 18, pretty much served as caretaker for her parents through high school. While friends went to movies, shopped and hung out with boys, she cooked and cleaned and dispensed medicine.
In May, Trina graduated as co-valedictorian at Wyandotte High School with an A-plus average. This, while working a part-time job.
She never missed a day of school or day of work.
Takirah, 20, the youngest of four, was already at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in April when her single mom lost her job with the closing of the Folgers Coffee plant.
Yolanda Carter doesn’t know how the family would have found money to keep Takirah in college another year.
“But she would have found a way,” Yolanda said this week. “That’s just how she is. She doesn’t quit.”
On Thursday, Takirah began her junior year of college student teaching at Dobbs Elementary in south Kansas City.
Neither of these two young women was willing to settle for less than their dream. Hell or higher tuition, they were going to sit in a college classroom this fall.
But the $7,500 each received for being one of 17 winners across the country of the inaugural Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Alumni Fund Scholarship came in handy. Especially with U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics showing that the cost of college tuition has increased 559 percent since 1985, far exceeding the rise for gasoline, health care and other consumer items.
The Ernst & Young scholarships are administered through the national Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, which for 25 years has encouraged teenagers in low-income communities to stay in school and plan for successful futures.
“Their stories are testament to their drive and determination to get to college and stay there,” Priscilla McInnes, regional director of Youth Entrepreneurs Kansas, said of Trina and Takirah.
Trina Durham was 14 or so when her mother became disabled. Her father was then diagnosed with cancer, forcing him to quit his warehouse job.
“It was a challenge for her,” Adrian Durham said. “Most kids don’t have to go through something like that.”
According to Nicole, an older sister, Trina essentially switched roles with her parents.
“She was taking care of them,” said the 28-year-old Nicole, who had already left home. “She fixed the meals. She cleaned the house. She made sure they took their medicine. She generated money.
“I know it was hard for her. But she did it all that time.”
Leslie Simons, college and career coordinator at Wyandotte, witnessed Trina’s four years of high school and thinks her home life forged a toughness.
“She got things done ahead of time,” Simons said. “So determined. She never settled. There was never an obstacle she couldn’t get through. She seemed older. Her situation forced her to make adult decisions every day.
“Is her future bright? It’s unbelievable.”
Trina shrugs her shoulders at the high praise.
“I know I’m not like a lot of 18-year-olds,” Trina said. “I had to grow up faster. I missed out on some things, but that doesn’t matter now.”
She still lives at home because she doesn’t want to leave her parents. They still need her.
Her goal now is a future in the business world. Where does she want to end up?
“Somewhere at the top,” she said, smiling.
Youngsters who grow up on hard streets often can’t wait to move away. But many can’t, trapped by poverty and lack of education.
Takirah Carter is one who could escape. So what does she want to do?
“Go back and teach,” she said last week.
A graduate of J.C. Harmon High School, she is in her third year at UMKC studying elementary education.
“Kids there need positive role models,” said Takirah, who currently works on campus. “I was in their shoes. It was not the best environment. We didn’t have good health care. Times were hard.”
She got her first job at 16 at a McDonald’s. Her mother was often sick so she would use her money to buy groceries and other things for the house.
“I want those kids to see me,” she said of her future students. “To see what can happen if they study and stay in school.”
Don’t doubt her, said her mother.
“She’s always been so positive,” Yolanda Carter said. “She always carried on like everything was going to work out. Some kids aren’t like that. They give up. Not Takirah. She wouldn’t know how to give up.”
Both Takirah and Trina received other scholarships in addition to the latest from Ernst & Young. It all helps to make things just a little bit easier.
For two girls who never had it that way.