Nothing was going to stop Mikel Hudson from becoming the first person in her family to go to college.
Higher education was her personal mission, she wrote in an essay to a local scholarship committee. If her financial aid did not cover the cost, she resolved to simply find a way to pay for it.
On Wednesday evening, Hudson was one of nine college-bound students who live in Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority-managed communities to be honored by the housing authority’s board of commissioners with a scholarship. Each student will receive $4,000 to support their pursuit of a college degree.
“I was overjoyed,” said Hudson, 18, recalling her reaction when she learned that she was selected for the honor. “I was just screaming.”
The scholarship ensures Hudson will be able to enroll this fall at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she plans to study business.
Along with Hudson, this year’s scholarship recipients are:
- Ailyah Blackshear, who will enroll at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College;
- Nyla Cooper, Virginia Union University;
- Shytina Huey, J. Sargeant Reynolds;
- Devante Jackson, J. Sargeant Reynolds;
- Varchon Laws, Old Dominion University;
- Mekhi Lucas, Virginia Union;
- Shanaya Peck, who is undecided; and
- Dai’Quana Washington, Radford University.
Blackshear, who graduated from Armstrong High School, plans to seek a degree in computer engineering and pursue her passion for robotics. The honor holds special significance, she said.
“I want to make people proud,” Blackshear said. “I want others, people like me, to know that they can do it, too, just send a message out there and inspire others to do bigger things.”
In the past decade, 89 students from RRHA communities have been awarded the so-called Tomorrow’s Promise scholarships.
“RRHA’s 2021 college bound scholarship winners prove that environment does not define ability,” said Stacey Daniels-Fayson, RRHA’s interim CEO, in a news release. “We are proud to be a part of the ‘village’ that nurtures and celebrates the spirit, creativity and hard work of our students who have overcome great obstacles to achieve and thrive in a challenging environment.”
Hudson grew up in Whitcomb Court in the city’s East End. Her family moved to the smaller Randolph public housing community when she was a teenager.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the hours she worked at Panera were cut from more than 40 a week to just 15. Her mother lost income when her work as an in-home caregiver dried up, so Hudson dipped into her savings — money she had set aside for a car — to help her family cover rent and pay bills.
At the same time, she was completing both an associate degree and high school diploma through Highland Springs High School’s Advanced College Academy, a partnership between Henrico County Public Schools and J. Sargeant Reynolds.
The program allowed her to pursue her interest in business and marketing, Hudson said. She’s spending this summer interning with the housing authority in its executive offices.
With the RRHA scholarship and another she earned, her remaining bill for her first semester is now less than $300 — a relief, she said. It will allow her to turn her attention to making the transition to college without loading up on extra shifts at work, she said. Now, all she has to do is count down the days until she moves into her new dorm.
Said Neil Kessler, chairman of RRHA’s board: “We couldn’t be prouder of these young men and women, and we wish them the best of luck and success going forward.”