Trying Not to Become Another Statistic

By Vanessa Yates

I have been writing and telling stories my whole life. I have always had a quirky personality, and at 20 years old, I now cherish who I am. That wasn’t always the case. My family had very little money growing up. My torn clothes and “annoying” enthusiasm quickly turned me into a target for bullying. Today, I’m more confident in who I am, but I still fight against the odds for my education and well-being.

My name is Vanessa Yates. I am in my second semester at Wayne County Community College District (WCCCD) but I hope to transfer to a university soon. My interest in storytelling is the main reason I’m excited to write for Detroit Drives Degrees. Through this opportunity, I can share students’ experiences that tell the story behind the education data in Southeast Michigan. These stories will be shared with the goal to inspire students, business leaders and the greater community to prioritize education in our region. I am truly fascinated by the stories I hear every day from my peers and believe they deserve to be heard.

Goal to Graduate

I was 12 when I moved to Detroit and started middle school at Phoenix Academy in Southwest Detroit, which closed a few years after the state’s Education Achievement Authority took over. I was smart but made mediocre grades because it was hard for me to concentrate at school with bullying and having a shy personality.

At home, I spent afternoons driving to nicer neighborhoods with my mom and sister to look through garbage and find scrap metal. We junked the metal to feed my family; it is how we made ends meet.

My situation at home and bullying in school took its toll on my confidence until I did not feel like myself. This continued through high school, where I attended Western International High School. While at Western, I battled depression for the whole four years of my attendance. Most of my teachers saw potential in me, but my grades went up and down along with my emotions. I almost thought I would not graduate.

Finally, senior year came and I started to pull my grades up because I was determined to graduate and even attend college, I just had no idea how I was going to pull it off. Things were going great until halfway through the year my dad had a heart attack and lost his job. This left my family in a dire financial situation, but I still graduated on time in 2016.

My father’s recovery prevented me from starting college right away and I went to work full-time at a plastics factory to support my family. When my father finally recovered, I moved out, filled out my FAFSA and started college in fall of 2017.

Living Against the Odds

Today, I work 35 hours a week at Chipotle Mexican Grill and take four classes at WCCCD. I’m able to manage my bouts of depression and in between my classes, I walk the campus trying to spark conversations and collect stories.

I live with my sister, her boyfriend, their daughter, my best friend, and my girlfriend. We share one car and work around each other’s separate schedules for work, school, cheerleading practice, grocery shopping, doctor appointments, and other errands.

When I have free time, I either sit on the couch watching animation or explore Michigan’s natural parks. Lately, I have not had as much free time because my girlfriend is sick and we are constantly in and out of the hospital and missing classes because she is in pain. Life is tough so it is good that we have a house full of people to support us.

I’m determined to transfer to a four-year university and graduate with a bachelor’s degree, but I know I’m going against the odds. At Western University, only 6 percent of the 2011 high school graduates earned a four-year degree six years after graduation. I’m committed to being part of that six percent and I hope that efforts through Detroit Drives Degree and others can help increase that number. I’m really only beginning my college journey and I have a long way to go before I’m successful. Doing well in my classes is the easy part; it is the rest I am still trying to figure out.

When my friends and I left home, we built this support system and, in a way we built our own family. I did not have much support when I was younger and I made it through. I’m confident that my experience overcoming challenges and my new support will help me through this phase of my journey.

Life can sometimes feel like a beaver dam. As much as you want your river to flow easy, sometimes things can block your path and pressure can build. When the pressure is too much on me, I rely on the bonds of family and friends; sometimes just laughing and being there for each other is enough to get me through another week.

Dream Deferred: The Path to Accomplishing Career Goals

By: Afrkah Cooper 

It seemed to happen overnight. D’ante Whitney, a 13-year old from Detroit, woke up with a deep voice – a really deep voice – and he knew he was destined for a career in radio. Throughout high school, Whitney read his school’s announcements every morning at Detroit School of Arts and Sciences, using his joking personality to create a unique and positive school culture. This experience solidified his love for broadcast radio and he knew exactly what he wanted to do.

Whitney struggled in high school and his grade point average was not sufficient for college acceptance. Committed to pursuing a career in broadcast, he attended Specs Howard School of Media Arts, a private career school in Southfield, where he wowed interviewers with his great personality and radio-ready voice.

After an intense 48-week program, Whitney received an undergraduate certificate in broadcast media arts and landed an internship at his favorite local radio station. At the time it seemed like this was his big break. The unpaid internship was in promotions, so he spent most of his time setting up for events, rather than developing his skills. “It was basically free labor,” Whitney said.

After his radio internship Whitney returned to Specs Howard to acquire more skills and boost his resume with an undergraduate certificate in digital media arts. Even with two certificates under his belt, he struggled to find work in the field and settled for stagnant jobs over the next four years. Dreams deferred, Whitney became comfortable with being independent and kept telling himself that he would pursue his dreams one day.

After three-years of working at a plant, Whitney was laid off. Not only did he lose his independence but he immediately began to regret his decision to give up on his dream.

Whitney decided to use this experience as an opportunity to get back on track. He landed an internship at local radio station WDET 101.9 FM and realized this was the perfect place for him.

The WDET staff has been extremely hands-on, and Whitney has been able to rotate throughout departments over the past year, gaining more responsibility and continuing building his network. He now serves as a correspondent on one of WDET’s flagship culture shows, “Culture Shift”. “It’s like being at Specs again, I’m learning,” Whitney said.

WDET has provided an environment for Whitney to flourish. However, the internship is unpaid and he is now at another turning point in his life. He feels he has the experience and is ready to work in his field but is still struggling to find a paying job in his field. Committed to success, he has given himself a two-year deadline to strengthen his network and build his career.

Companies need to develop their own talent. Students need to the opportunity to learn; work experience is key to success. As you look to your own organization, ask yourself how can you develop more impactful internships and offer development-focused, entry-level positions. We have incredible talent in Southeast Michigan and we need to ensure our future workforce is prepared to fill jobs available today and in the future. There’s a role for students, postsecondary institutions and employers.

At the Detroit Regional Chamber, we work with businesses to create a community around talent development within the workforce. If you have a great internship program or support entry-level positions or unique continuing education opportunities (i.e. tuition reimbursement) please contact: Sarah Craft at scraft@detroitchamber.com.

There are so many students like Whitney who lose track because they lack opportunities and guided development. To continue the regions growth, we need to prioritize student access and on-the-job learning.