This spring MyLin walked across the stage and received her diploma along with her classmates from David Douglas High School. Her whole family was there to celebrate, including her great grandmother. No one was beaming more with pride though than MyLin’s mother, Ebonee.
“It felt really victorious because we had a lot of hardship during MyLin’s high school years and she was able to stick it through,” says Ebonee.
It was a joyous day that almost didn’t happen.
“I was not expected to live,” shares Ebonee. Even now, it’s painful for MyLin and her mother to talk about the last two years. In May of 2017, Ebonee unexpectedly slipped into a coma for 10 days with pneumococcal meningitis. She suffered an additional coma before doctors realized she had a cerebral spinal fluid leak and performed surgery. MyLin had very little extended family nearby to lean on. Her grandmother passed away years ago and her grandfather was taking care of her great grandmother. At one point, doctors suggested MyLin’s grandfather make final arrangements.
At the age of 16, MyLin took on the responsibility of caring for her younger siblings, worrying about what would happen to her mother, and all the while trying her best to focus in class.
At that time MyLin was a sophomore at David Douglas High School, one of the largest school districts in Oregon. David Douglas School District has a higher level of racial and cultural diversity among the students as well as a higher number of families living in poverty. Students of color, many of whom have been impacted by gentrification, found themselves struggling to get the support they needed to succeed and graduate on time.
With all these dynamics in addition to the stress of her mother’s illness, MyLin found it challenging to connect one on one with teachers. Rapidly MyLin’s participation in class and her grades started to slip.
“Around the time this was happening, I was really depressed,” says MyLin. “I didn’t know where me and my siblings were going to go. I wasn’t doing good in school because I couldn’t focus on school.”
That’s when Miki Hunnicutt, a Family and Resource Navigator with Self Enhancement Incorporated (SEI) and a Successful Families 2020 Co-Lead, stepped in.
The two were able to connect on so many levels, coming from the same culture and being able to share experiences as Black women in Portland. Miki could even relate to the responsibility of caring for one’s siblings. “I had to play that role,” says Miki. “My mother went out and worked to provide for five girls. My mom was mom and dad for our family and I was like a little second mom.”
Ebonee was very involved and supportive even while sick, and Miki was there to provide an extra boost of support as needed. Sometimes Miki would deliver MyLin’s homework if she missed class, or drive her to and from school, and through it all, Miki was always ready to just listen. As part of SF2020’s focus on successful student and family outcomes, Miki often checked in with MyLin’s family and made sure they had access to resources.
SEI is one of five community-based nonprofits part of Success Families 2020 (SF2020) – a collaborative established by United Way, with the goal of ensuring successful outcomes for kids of color and their families in Multnomah County. The other culturally specific organizations include Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), Latino Network (LN), Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), one culturally responsive organization, Metropolitan Family Service (MFS) as well as Multnomah County.
Five years ago, United Way and Multnomah County made an initial investment to launch SF2020. Since then the collaborative has connected with students and families in the David Douglas and Reynolds School Districts, pooling together their resources and directing service expertise to drive measurable change in student, school and family outcomes. The United Way team associated with SF2020 also works collaboratively with the teachers and administrators, providing in-depth analysis of school data to better understand and serve the needs of students of color and their families.
SF2020 coordinators are located within the halls of David Douglas and Reynolds High Schools to provide academic support to students and connect their families to wraparound services. Over the course of those two years, Miki was always there by MyLin’s side. When it looked impossible for MyLin to catch up on her diploma requirements, Miki was there to meet with teachers as well as counselors to help develop a plan with MyLin and Ebonee. “It was good to be able to see how I needed to get my credits up and how I was going to achieve it, versus being told ‘Hey, you don’t have enough to graduate’ and me trying to figure it out by myself,” says MyLin.
Now with her diploma in hand, MyLin has her sights set on Seattle Pacific University. She is excited to pursue a degree in journalism, especially after demonstrating her talent by writing for the Highlander, David Douglas' student newspaper. Thanks to support from the SF2020 program and Miki, as well as her family, MyLin feels prepared for the future. “I can problem solve better now. I know how to communicate better,” says MyLin. “Now I know how to go ask for what I need and what I want.”
No matter what the future holds, MyLin will have the support of her family and her community behind her. “I remind her that there are people that believe in you, that invested in you,” says Ebonee. “You have to go forth, you have to follow your dreams because there are people that are cheering you on.”