Jade Griffith and Shomari

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Jade Griffith is an aspirational African-American woman whose adolescence in New Orleans was torn up by Hurricane Katrina.  

Her whole family was designated as “refugees” and forced to relocate to Texas. “My Mom was always push, push, push,” she told me. “But I was so anxious, I dropped out of school and ran back to New Orleans and tried to get a job. “I wish I would’ve listened and never moved out of my parents’ home until I had it, like, all together.”

Jade leans across the table at the café where we are meeting in Queens, New York, to tell me why her expectations of college and independence by her mid-twenties were sideswiped.

“I got pregnant at 24. Next thing I’ll be 30 and you should know what you want to do by 30.” 

But this setback led to her becoming a TCG.  She moved to Queens and discovered La Guardia Community College, the greatest engine of aspiration in New York City. Day and night and all weekend long, winter and summer, the 20,000 degree students rush in and out of its doors hungrily cramming the education that most of their parents missed. More than two-thirds of the students come from families with incomes of less than $25,000 a year.

Once Jade lined up several part-time jobs and a daycare center for her son, she applied to LaGuardia at age 25. She began making new friends with refugees from other countries and found her identity within this vibrant international community.  

Surprise! Her boyfriend and baby daddy showed up. Shomari had left college after two years to follow the ubiquitous dream of becoming a famous rapper (after he had one song on the radio in Dallas). “I wasted a lot of the money traveling and putting out regional songs with another artist,  Eventually, everything fell apart.”

When Shomari learned that Jade was pregnant, the last thing in his head, he says, was to run away from the responsibility.  He was raised by a single mom and absent father. It was his grandfather he went to for a man-to-man talk.

“Time to toughen up, because you have somebody else to take care of now,” the older man counselled.  “It’s not about YOU anymore. “Get a job and don’t give it up ‘till you get a better one.” Shomari moved in with Jade and started working in a Frito-Lay warehouse. Getting up at 4 a.m. and willing to work a 12-hour shift, he quickly moved up. The company offered to pay for college if he stays two years.

When I asked to visit the couple, they hesitated. By then, their son was a rambunctious new toddler with asthma, which had slapped a health department eviction notice on their basement apartment for poor ventilation. They were living in a shelter.  A sweltering single room with a double decker bed, crib and crock pot. Jade was determined to finish her two years of class work, and so she did.  

The last time I visited, the couple was cheerful. Jade looked forward to finishing her two years of class work, even though that meant the family would have to spend another suffocating summer in the shelter – a single room with a double decker bed and a crib and crock pot.

“We are still together, we are a family, and we have hope,” Jade said, as her son clomped around the space in his mama’s boots. “And soon, I’ll have a degree.”

Shomari was more philosophical. “I believe that God has something good out there for us, if we’re patient.  He’s not on our time, we’re on His time. When He does deliver, probably it’s going to be something we didn’t imagine.”