By Brittany Jackson
I first met Words Alive in 2010 in my English classroom at Monarch School.
My mom’s “friend” had just kicked us out of her living room and left my family and I in front of Monarch School with all of our belongings: our clothes frantically stuffed in bags, suitcases, and my backpack. My family and I had just became homeless…..again. It was always the same routine: find a place to stay for a few months, a week, or a night, and then move again. With every move, I was also forced to change schools and confront a new set of classmates and new teachers who didn’t understand my background or situation.
While drugs and gangs polluted my environment at home, Monarch School was a safe place for me to learn. That was how I met Words Alive. Words Alive was incorporated into Monarch School’s curriculum and we met once a week to discuss the assigned reading for that assigned period. Monarch, at the time, could easily fit the entire high school class into two small classrooms. Every student at different reading levels, but Words Alive welcomed us all.
As the years continued, my relationship with Words Alive only grew stronger. I had graduated at the top of my class from Monarch School in June 2012 and shortly after began my next step at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Although I had left San Diego, Words Alive followed. I applied for the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship and was awarded relief from my financial burden and a supportive mentor, Sarah. Although I was 400 miles away from San Diego, Sarah worked on monthly budgets and offered advice on situations I had never faced before.
Attending university was an exciting yet foreign experience for me, but Words Alive supported me through it all. When I began my freshman year in college, I felt confident that I wanted to become a pharmacist. A few quarters later, I wanted to become a dental assistant, kindergarten teacher, and probation officer. I loved chemistry! But I also loved working with people and helping them reach their full potential. Finally in my senior year, I realized a career as a high school counselor would encompass my passion to help others. But through it all, Words Alive always supported me.
In June 2017, I was finally prepared to walk the stage and graduate from the University of California, Santa Cruz. As I proudly shook the hand of my college provost and accepted my degree, I looked up to see my two grandparents and my Words Alive family parading my memorable milestone. I was the first in my family to graduate high school and now I was the first in my family to graduate from a four-year university. While my brother viewed my college journey as abandoning family responsibilities, Words Alive was there to support me.
Although I graduated from school and was no longer a recipient of the scholarship program, my relationship with Sarah and Words Alive continued. Last year, I volunteered with the Adolescent Book Group with my mentor, Sarah, at the La Mesa Community Blended School. We met with the high school class every two weeks and discussed books such as Born a Crime or The Hate U Give. We also worked on the 4th Annual Art and Literacy Event together with the kids and helped them express their perception of the theme identity.
I am now proud to say that I am working as a research assistant for the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development Study at UC San Diego. I’m currently in the process of applying to graduate school to achieve a Master’s degree in School Counseling. In addition, I regularly return to Monarch and Words Alive as a volunteer helping the current students and scholarship recipients reach their full potential and realize how bright their futures can be.
Brittany has come full circle and is now a mentor for a new scholarship student in the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship program. We could not be prouder of her and we are so grateful for her support.