|WSU graduate student Destiny Bush.
PULLMAN, Wash. – Destiny Bush escaped the crime and violence of Camden, N.J., to pursue an education. She’s a graduate student at Washington State University due, in part, to two mentors – one at WSU and the other a Camden woman who Bush was able to thank earlier this year by bringing her name and program into the national spotlight.
Coaching for dance … and life
In middle school, Bush joined Sophisticated Sisters, an energetic drill team created by volunteer Tawanda Jones. In addition to dance, Jones talked to team members about self-motivation, self-confidence and perseverance through life’s difficult circumstances.
“We call her ‘WaWa,’” said Bush. “She’s like a second mother to us. She really cares about us, but at the same time she’s also a strong disciplinarian.”
Jones expected the girls to arrive to practice early, have their homework done, graduate from high school and attend college. If any girl hadn’t finished her homework, she didn’t practice. If she needed a tutor, another sister would step in and help.
100 percent graduation rate
Many of the girls involved in Sophisticated Sisters have parents who are in prison, are addicted to drugs or have been murdered. Sophisticated Sisters is their family.
“Tawanda is my psychologist, my mentor, my mother and my friend,” Bush said.
Camden schools graduate fewer than 50 percent of high school students. More than 4,000 Camden kids have participated in Jones’ program since 1996, and 100 percent of them have graduated from high school.
Navigating a new culture
Bush graduated high school and earned a bachelor’s degree. She explored graduate programs, hoping to become a professor or work for a nonprofit organization. She was invited to WSU’s Diverse Scholars Program and was selected to receive a summer fellowship in June 2012.
“It was extremely difficult,” she said. “I had never lived in a rural area before.
“But the connections I’ve made here have helped me to endure the struggles of living across the nation and being the first person in my family to relocate into a different state,” she said.
One of those connections is Christina Lopez, a postdoc in the WSU Graduate School who is also from the east coast.
College mentor can empathize
“I can relate to Destiny on so many levels and understand her struggles coming here from a different community,” said Lopez, who taught two of Bush’s classes. Lopez grew up in Manhattan and the Bronx.
She scheduled meetings with Bush where she heard about her mentor, Tawanda Jones.
“I was so amazed at what Tawanda was doing,” said Lopez. “I suggested Destiny nominate her as a CNN Hero.”
Jones insisted that Bush come home to be part of the CNN television show. The Sophisticated Sisters funded her expenses to fly home.
The Camden Sophisticated Sisters Drill Team recently performed on TV’s “Dancing with the Stars” and is seeking funding for a building. Read more and watch performance videos at http://camdensophisticatedsisters.org
The value of mentoring
Few have the opportunity to nominate a mentor for a CNN Hero award, but most appreciate the importance of having and being mentors. The WSU Graduate School strives to provide its students with the mentoring and advising support they need to find success during their studies and beyond, Lopez said.
“I have encouraged a lot of graduate students who are down and discouraged,” she said. “Destiny brought a lot of value to what I do here and why I’m here. She’s exactly why I wanted to be in academia – to have that kind of an impact that brings everything together.”
“When I came to WSU, I could still hear WaWa’s voice,” said Bush. “Then I met Christina and found her support and mentorship so encouraging. I am so glad and grateful that she’s been there for me.”