Success through Self Determination

by Quintana Woodridge 

UYIJP graduate Keisha Ruth outside Memorial Hall before class at WIU. Photo by Quintana Woodridge.

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by Urban Youth International Journalism Program Coordinator Quintana Woodridge, herself a graduate of the UYJP. The UYIJP is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation.

The Urban Youth International Journalism Program (UYIJP) has graduated thousands of young people from the J-101 journalism training classes since we got started back in 1998 and we are proud of all of them. But once in a while, we like to shine a spotlight on those who deserve some special recognition. Keisha Ruth, a graduate of the 2011 class of UYIJP who is now a junior at Western Illinois University, is proof of that the past doesn’t matter and the future can be a success.  

Keisha Ruth at WIU on September 22, 2013. Photo by Quintana Woodridge.

Keisha faced many obstacles as a youth in the Englewood Community but she worked her way up until she was Salutatorian of her senior class at Paul Robeson High School, giving one of the class speeches and receiving her high school diploma on June 11, 2011. Things are still not easy for Keisha, now 22. She was rejected by various scholarship providers and has not received any assistance from people she thought would help her, but Keisha remains optimistic and excited about finishing her years at Western Illinois University. She is majoring in journalism and minoring in creative writing.  

“I had a hard time growing up as a ward of the state. My family was split up and had to live with various family members. I was told by my guardian at the house where I stayed that she didn’t want me to touch anything because she didn’t trust me. She said she didn’t want me stealing from her. This hurt my feelings because I don’t steal,” Keisha recalled.  

The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) removed Keisha and her brothers from their parents’ care from the time she was 6 to the age of 9. She remembers her mom and dad not being able to take care of them at that time but she didn’t find out until much later why that was. Keisha and her brothers were given back to their parents for a short time, but then DCFS stepped in again. Up until college, Keisha spent time in various group homes among strangers who sometimes stole her things and started fights with her. She did not let this misfortune keep her from focusing on her school work and getting involved in educational programs.

“I didn’t really have time to be in any activities for my senior year of high school because I was focusing on my work. All four years of high school, I stayed focused on my work and I had teachers that supported and believed in me. When I was sophomore and junior, I was on the cheerleading team, I was volunteering for service learning hours, I worked with After School Matters program, and participated in programs at Imagine Englewood If (IEI).

“At IEI, I joined the Urban Youth International Journalism Program which helped improve my writing and gave me skills to be a journalist. Being in the program, I didn’t get to write as much as I would have liked to: Because of my housing curfew, I couldn’t stay for the whole class. I love journalism and writing: It’s my passion and I wouldn’t trade it to be a doctor or lawyer even though I know I can be either of those. Being a part of Western Illinois University news paper, TV broadcasting, and radio station team is what makes college exciting for me,” stated Keisha.

She told RJ that it wasn’t always easy to get study time at home so she would seek a quiet space where she could study, the library being one of the places she would go. She also said that her parents are happy to see her in college and are very proud. Even though she does not live with them, they are very much a part of her life. Keisha says she loves her family but being in college is what’s best for her.

“I want to be an example for my brothers so they will get good grades and go to college as well. I will be the first to finish college in my family and I know this because failure is not an option; it never was. If it was an option, I wouldn’t be where I am, at the top of my class,” said Keisha.

She offered her advice to seniors that are graduating from high school so that they too may have the strength to get past what ever they have been through. She said that young girls who are pregnant, already have children, or are just struggling should stay positive. Keep away from negativity, study to get good grades and graduate so they can move on to college. She also encourages young boys to get their education, graduate and go to college. She would like for them to set an example for younger boys so they will not be part of the population that goes to jail.

“Staying strong and determined will guarantee that you will succeed,” she said.

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