No one ever told me education was important. I was born into a low-income family where no one had graduated from high school. However, at four years old, I tugged at my grandmother’s long dress and cried over my missing homework. I wanted to do well academically to break my family’s generational curse of poverty.

I grew up in a family where money was always a concern. In my mom’s generation, a jar of mayonnaise was often the dinner for twelve, if they were lucky. My mother, one of 12 children, was often hungry, and at times, abused and neglected. Currently, my mom struggles to pay the bills and cannot afford much more than basic necessities.

I have lived in Overtown and Liberty City, two of the most impoverished areas in Miami, most of my life. Hearing gunshots, couples argue, police car sirens, ambulances, loud music, and profanities are the norm in my neighborhood. On a typical day, I would witness half-naked men and women prostituting themselves and young men on the corner selling all sorts of illicit drugs. Having witnessed what goes on in my neighborhood has made me strive to achieve success in everything I do. I looked around and saw what I did not want to be. I buried my head in my books while commuting on the train and bus, knowing that where I came from did not define me.

My academic success in high school led me to Dartmouth College. Without the support of my family, high school faculty, mentors, Adrienne Arsht Center, Thomas Armour Youth Ballet, and specifically, Stylesaves, I could not have arrived here. When I accepted Dartmouth’s offer of enrollment, I realized that I would be moving from a hot climate to a much colder one. I had no shoes, scarfs, sweaters, gloves, or earmuffs. Stylesaves provided it all. They even gave me a brand new Apple Macbook Air. If not for the Stylesaves organization, I would have had to pay Dartmouth more than a thousand dollars for a computer, money I certainly did not have, and have suffered during my first winter. I am so grateful to Stylesaves. I am proud to be the first ever college student StyleSaves has supported with clothing and a laptop.  They simply read my story, forwarded by my mentor, and decided to take a chance on me. Being a freshman at Dartmouth is both challenging and exciting. There have been science and math classes that have made me cry frustrating tears. But I went to my professors’ office hours, signed up for a tutor, and studied everyday until I understood. During my first term, that was all I did and I was not satisfied at Dartmouth. Then, in the winter term, I became involved in the spiritual community on campus and fell in love with Dartmouth. Being part of such a community has made Dartmouth so much more enjoyable. I will not give up my dream of being a successful African American woman, from Liberty City, in the math and science field. It was such a relief that I did not have to juggle adjusting to college life and worrying about my winter wardrobe. I was able to focus on my classes and do really well, academically. As I reflect over my life, I am truly blessed and destined for greatness. #GoGreen!

Written by Ebony Smith