Tayah

Howard University, Class of 2021

BA in Communications -- Public Relations

“During high school my brother and I were in foster care, but College AIM still helped us both to obtain maximum financial aid for college. I am now attending Howard University in Washington, DC on a full ride, and my brother is at Union College in New York — also attending with a full scholarship."

WHERE WE ARE

Students and Results

Class of 2020

  • 100% High School Graduation Rate

  • 96% College Enrollment Rate

  • $10 Million in Scholarships and Grants

  • 1 Posse Scholar

  • 1 Bonner Scholars

  • 1 Five Strong Scholar

  • 1 Usher's New Look Scholar

  • Acceptances:

    • Agnes Scott College

    • Alabama A&M University (5)

    • Alabama State University (7)

    • Albany State University

    • Albright College

    • Arkansas Baptist College

    • Arkansas State University

    • Art Institute of Atlanta

    • Bard College (2)

    • Bethune-Cookman University (3)

    • Benedict College (4)

    • Bennett College

    • Berea College

    • Birmingham-Southern College (2)

    • Bloomfield College

    • Boston University (2)

    • Brandeis University (2)

    • Campbell University

    • Centre College (3)

    • Clark Atlanta University (5)

    • Clayton State University (4)

    • College of the Holy Cross (2)

    • Columbus State University

    • Denison University

    • Edward Waters College (3)

    • Emory University

    • Fayetteville State University

    • Fisher College

    • Fort Valley State University (3)

    • Florida State University

    • Franklin and Marshall College (3)

    • Georgetown College

    • George Washington University (2)

    • Georgia Gwinnett College (2)

    • Georgia Institute of Technology

    • Georgia State University (2)

    • Georgia State University – Perimeter Campus, Clarkston (2)

    • Georgia State University – Perimeter Campus, Decatur

    • Hampton University

    • Hawaii-Pacific University

    • Jackson State University (2)

    • Jacksonville University

    • Kentucky State University

    • Lehigh University

    • Miles College

    • Morehouse College (5)

    • Morris College

    • North Carolina A&T University

    • North Carolina Central University

    • Norwich University

    • Oglethorpe College

    • Paine College (9)

    • Pitzer College

    • Presbyterian College

    • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

    • Rhodes College (2)

    • San Diego State University

    • Savannah State University (4)

    • Scripps College

    • Skidmore College

    • Spelman College (2)

    • St. John’s University (4)

    • Talladega College

    • Tennessee State University (4)

    • Thomas University

    • Trinity College

    • Tuskegee University (3)

    • Union College (2)

    • University of Georgia

    • University of West Georgia

    • Valdosta State University

    • Voorhees College (3)

    • Wesleyan University

    • Wingate University

    • Wofford College (6)

OUR STORIES IN OUR WORDS

As I made it through the endless security line and approached my terminal I was overwhelmed by a rush of emotions. Common airplane-related nightmares filled me with anxiety. On the plane I watched out the small window and remembered how the sky had always piqued my curiosity.

As a young child, I would gaze up and watch miniscule planes leave trails of exhaust across the clear blue sky. I imagined that each was Buzz Lightyear from "Toy Story,” flying from coast to coast on a life-saving mission. As I grew older I remained intrigued by traveling tens of thousands of feet above the ground, by tons of metal appearing suspended in the air, by velocities approaching the speed of sound. To me it was magical because before this trip, as an eighteen-year-old high school senior, I had never boarded a plane and ascended into the sky.

 

 

 

Hernan
Tufts University '19

Hernan has now completed his junior year at Tufts University, where he studies Mechanical Engineering. He participated in the BEST (Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts) Program and has received more than half a million dollars in scholarships. He also recently endowed a scholarship at Towers. He is the first in his family to pursue a four-year college degree.

Charianda
Brandeis University '20

Charianda has completed her second year at Brandeis, where she is pursuing a major in Afro-American Studies and a minor in Social Justice and Social Policy. She was part of the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program and has received more than $250,000 in grants and scholarships to fund her education. Chari is the first in her family to attend college.

Student Results


Finances were frequently tight in my house and luxuries such as air travel were always out of the picture. Throughout my childhood my mom worked as a housemaid and my dad worked in construction. My parents have sacrificed, working physically demanding jobs to give me the opportunity to become a first generation American and a first generation college student.

With inspiration from home to provide a better life for the next generation of my family, I’ve seen a blueprint for my education slowly unfold. My school has consistently been ranked as one of the lowest performing high schools in Georgia, but I’ve gained an appreciation for, and grasped, any opportunity because my parents had so few. In Mexico, they barely finished elementary school before needing to support each of their families.

Having moved to America without significant education, my father has needed me to serve as his personal and professional translator. Despite needing my support though, from a young age my father was the man who I wanted to become; I idolized him. He could fix anything; whether it was a car or machinery at his job he always found the solution to any problem. Over time, at his side, I’ve developed similar technical skills and a passion for engineering.

As I’ve matured though, I’ve come to realize that my father is not the person I saw when I was a child. Last summer, my father found that I had dyed my hair without his permission. He was immediately upset and began hurling homophobic slurs across the room. His outdated, hateful perspective equated dyed hair with being homosexual. He demanded to know if I was gay. I responded, “No, but what if I were?” He said that he would rather shoot himself than live with that “burden.” As has often been the case, he was judgmental when he should have been accepting. On that day I realized that he was not the man that I wanted to become.

From my father I have learned a passion for working with my hands, for creation and for problem solving. But from my community I have become a more socially conscious young man, one who wants to lead and set a moral standard for those behind me. My father no doubt has contributed to my development but I recognize his shortcomings. I understand the importance of balancing personal ambition with compassion for others.

Within my community, within my school and within my family, academic passion is rare. The drive to become an aerospace engineer, quite literally a “rocket scientist,” is unheard of at Towers. This is what I have to give. I can be both accomplished and compassionate. I can be the torchbearer. I can be the trail of exhaust in the sky, the “puff of smoke” in the distance that etches the trail to both achievement and acceptance for my younger relatives and kids in my community. I can be their Buzz Lightyear; I can allow them to dream without restriction.

 

When I was three weeks old, my mother dropped me off at my paternal grandmother’s house and never came back. My biological mother was homeless, in abusive relationships and constantly using drugs. My biological father was never at home for long, always on binges and in and out of jail.

I spend hours daydreaming of where I would be if my paternal grandmother hadn’t adopted me. My imagination doesn’t have to travel far though. I see my alternate reality daily as I watch my 19 year-old sister struggle to raise my niece and nephew and as I witness my younger brother and sister increasingly succumb to the influences of their turbulent surroundings. My mother and biological siblings live across the street from me; each day I see them at school and in our neighborhood. My biological father occasionally spends the night at my house, on his way to and from binges. My family, always nearby, stitched the cloth of who I am, yet they remain so far from the tapestry that I am becoming.

My biological parents and siblings may never step foot on a college campus, write a personal narrative or realize their talents. Through our increasingly divergent experiences though, a flare has been born in me, a drive to go where no one in my family has gone before.

It is clear that my dad’s mother saved my life; she provided my alternate existence. Upon my arrival, my grandmother instantly fell in love with my “big brown eyes” and “thick eyebrows.” She made it her purpose to ensure that I never stepped foot in, or fell prey to, the lifestyle in which my parents, to this day, still indulge.

While trying to find my own purpose, I found myself deluged in music, poetry, knowledge of my ancestors, and books about civil rights. I used those kings and queens as the influence for the new, spiritual family I would collect over time.

I stumbled upon people who have had a significant impact on me. I met my father, Pastor Tommy Conley, who taught me that I could not do anything without God at the helm. Later I gained a brother, Lee, who influenced me to develop a balance between my personal and spiritual lives. From the beginning I had my mother, who charged me to be aware of tradition but not allow it to keep me stagnant.  I also found a sister, Summer, who taught me to keep my head up because true queens never drop their crowns. Most recently I added my teacher, Mr. Aleinikoff, who reminds me daily to get the job done. These people, who hold a special place in my heart, have each made up what I feel my proper “family” is.

When establishing my brand, and who I want to become, I will keep my family in mind. I will use my father’s words to help me prosper through the bad days, the power that my spiritual mother reminds me that I have, the swagger that my sister will not let me live without, the endurance my brother prays I maintain and the work ethic my teacher has helped me to find. Though one may look at my family and see a broad array of religions, skin tones and sizes, I feel that this diversity has made me the empowered person I am today. Though society may look at my life and feel disheartened by my beginnings, I take heed to what I was given, and let it make me stronger. My foundation may have been cracked, but I trust that God will continue to fill in the gaps.

 

 

Kortay
Union College '19

Kortay has completed his junior year at Union College, where he studies Philosophy. Kortay is part of the Academic Opportunity Program (AOP) at Union and has received more than half a million dollars in grant and scholarship offers to finance his education. Kortay will be the first in his family to attend college.

I was a “crack baby.” To this day, my mom struggles with substance abuse and growing up, I never knew what it was like to have a mother who paid attention to my education. My older brother wasn’t the best example for me to follow either; he had been affected by my mother’s bad habits and as a result was held back twice in elementary school. Eventually he ended up in prison. To deal with the frustration, I acted out in school. What my teachers failed to realize though were the roots of my behavior. They didn’t see that I was having trouble at home and needed someone to confide in.


When I was in fourth grade my mother went through her first rehab program. Thinking everything would be better, I put my trust back in her arms and began to improve in school. Just a few weeks after coming home though, my mother was gone once more. The morning after she disappeared, my future step-dad woke me up for school and told me that my mother was using heavily again. Devastated by his words I slipped back into my ways of acting out in school. The progress that I made while my mother tried to get better disappeared, and I began to not care whether or not I went on to middle school or high school.


My behavior issues in school lasted until seventh grade when my English teacher, Ms. McQuary, noticed that I was failing most of my classes and intervened. She told me that if I didn’t straighten up I wouldn’t make it to high school; eventually I would be stuck working at McDonald’s trying to figure out how to make my next rent payment. I told my mom what she said and was shocked by my mother’s response. “Well you know I never graduated high school. It’s ok if you don’t want to go to college.” Listening to her words, I was crushed. My own mother didn’t have high expectations for my education and told me it was ok to quit on my dreams.


Like a messenger, the next day I retuned to school and told Ms. McQuary what my mom said. Ms. McQuary told me that she believed in me though. She said that I would be something great in life, that my mind was a gift and I would be known across the globe. Ms. McQuary was the first teacher who ever encouraged me. She was the first teacher to lead me to better myself so that I could one day benefit the world. Since that moment in middle school, I have worked with a chip on my shoulder. I refuse to be a product of my home environment.


As I progressed into high school, the turbulence caused by my mother’s drug use continued. She was upset by my attempts to come between her, the drugs and an abusive boyfriend and repeatedly called the police to get me put in jail where I would no longer intervene. All along, my grandmother was the person who stayed strong for me. Remembering how she tried, and ultimately failed, to help keep my brother from prison she told me, “The only way you are going to make it out of that house is by finishing school and going to college to be somebody.” Throughout high school I have worked with that mindset.


This year, I was finally taken into child services custody along with my two younger siblings. And after a stint in a group home, I am now living with my grandmother. I am happy to say that my mom is also getting the help she needs. Regardless of what has happened in the past, I am supportive of her decision to go into rehab once again. I’m currently a ward of the state, but will graduate from high school in May and be the first person in my family to go to college. Although these ongoing situations are challenging, they have made me who I am today. I am a person who looks toward a better future, keeps a positive attitude no matter what the situation, strives to overcome obstacles and keeps his head held high.
 

 

Jodian
Spelman College '18

Jodian recently graduated Magna Cum Laude from Spelman College. Her degree is in Biology and she will spend a year doing bio-medical research before continuing to medical school. This spring she also joined the College AIM Board of Directors as our first ever alumni Board Member.

Piercing screams filled the air. I tried to calm her down, but was nothing I did made the situation any better. Her shrills continued and heightened my fear and desperation. Soon, my veins tensed and nervousness took over. I tried my utter best to appease her, but I could not understand what was wrong with Maya*. What did I say? What did I do?


I was afraid the administrators would think I did something to her, but Maya continued to reject me and I had no choice. I abandoned my attempt to console her and went sobbing to an administrator. Surprisingly, the headmaster was unfazed by Maya’s sudden tantrum. She reassured me: “Maya is fine. Just leave her alone she will stop screaming eventually.”

 

This was my first experience volunteering at the Atlanta Preparatory School of the Arts and I was excited to work with young children. Upon my arrival, I was partnered with a 5 year old girl named Maya. As her “big sister,” I was assigned to help her with homework and play with her. Everything went smoothly until her sudden tantrum.


Later, I found out that Maya is autistic. I immediately became intrigued by Autism Spectrum Disorders. I read a book called “The Quirky Tale of April Hale,” which added to my interest in Autism. I found that, while reading this book, I was aggravated by the main character’s unusual behavior.  She was a self-proclaimed “weirdo,” whom I thought was merely craving attention. When I made it to the end of the book I found out that she had been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, and my opinions about April quickly changed.


At my volunteer site, I didn’t want to stop being Maya’s big sister. I was curious about what I could do to be an effective mentor, and willingly took on the challenge.  I did thorough research online and spoke to my teachers about my endeavor. I even started to notice students at my school on the Autism Spectrum and engaged in conversations with them to better understand what living with the disorder is like. I wanted to know more so I contacted the National Autism Center to speak with a professional on the matter. Coupled with further online research, I learned that children with Autism have different degrees of the disorder. Each of these individuals is unique and some have outstanding visual skills, musical ability or academic capabilities. Still, like Maya, these children are often secluded from society and are not accepted by their peers.


It hurts me to see Maya all alone at school because the other children don’t talk or play with her. Older kids keep their distance too because they don't want to have to deal with her tantrums and awkward behavior. Maya sees the world differently, and it’s unfair that she has to live her life in relative social confinement because of her quirks.

 

My experiences with, and empathy for, Maya have brought my future into much sharper focus. I want to do research on the Autism Spectrum, both as an undergraduate and beyond. I want to develop more successful academic accommodations for children like Maya. I want create innovative ways to get Autistic children engaged in learning. Bringing about meaningful supports and solutions will help provide emotional and educational support to those with the disorder. These children need ways to be successful in school, and eventually to become successful professionals in the workforce.


Through working with Maya I have developed a more personal understanding of Autism. I eventually started to understand her a little better through her drawings and gestures. She had trouble communicating verbally, so her drawings were a huge part of our interactions. These methods helped to minimize her outbursts and helped me to understand her triggers. Throughout the process, I had to learn how to put myself in Maya’s position and had to try to view the world the way she does. Finding success in these pursuits and seeing her happy has been very rewarding.

 
Even though my interest in Autism is fairly recent, I know that I want to pursue research in the field. I want to find practical, research-based solutions and be a mentor for children, like Maya, who struggle with the effects of Autism.

 

*Name has been changed to protect personal privacy.

 

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College AIM programming is made possible by the generous contributions of many individuals as well as support from The Kendeda Fund and The Marcus Foundation.
 

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