From homelessness to class valedictorian, D.C. grad earns full ride to Georgetown University

Young, Gifted & Black Series

By Taki S. Raton

Rashema Melson (photo by Meredith Rizzo/NPR)

Rashema Melson (photo by Meredith Rizzo/NPR)

Life has presented our YG&B feature this week with a long unyielding series of personal challenges. But when these personal obstacles get in your way, as quoted in the Inquisitor, our series profile stands firm and positions, “you go right through it.”

“She is young, gifted and Black. Rashema Melson asserts in this June 12 posting, – “that’s the only way through a storm, you go right through it.”

The 18 year-old admits in the writing that, “it was a struggle to remain positive.”

But indeed, her hard work, faith, and perseverance has earned her a full ride scholarship to one of the finest universities in the country, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Although the Anacostia High School graduate, her mother and three of her six siblings have lived at the D.C. Homeless Shelter for the last two years during her junior and senior grades, she still managed to graduate on June 11, 2014 first in her class as valedictorian with a 4.0 GPA.

“Life is not fair. But despite that harsh reality, you must keep striving for success through the pain, tears and feelings of lost hope,” she said in her graduation commencement speech as cited in Eun Kyung Kim’s June 12, 11 Alive Atlanta.

Fox 5 reporter Bob Barnard reports on May 27 that more than 300 adults and 500 children live in the D.C. shelter where Rashema and her family share a single room.

Because of the lack of privacy and the level of noise in the shelter, as noted in Kim, Rashema found it difficult to do her homework.

She approached this challenge by heading out to school every morning around 7 a.m. and staying in the building for the next 13 hours, taking honors courses, competing in track and studying in the library.

“I wasn’t going to give up, so I didn’t give up,” she says in her graduation speech.

She adds in Bernard that one of the most challenging obstacles was, “just moving around before we got to the shelter. Because it’s been going on for six years.” Rashema and her family has moved from home to home; from Maryland to Ohio to Florida and then to Tennessee as shared by Zachary Kiesch in his June 12, 4 NBC Washington writing.

Our gifted teen posits in Kiesch that she doesn’t consider the shelter to be a home.

“There’s no furniture. There’s no refrigerator. It’s just a place to be content with until you get to where you want to be.”

D.C. Department of Human Services spokesperson Dora Taylor says in the Bernard account that Rashema, “is definitely a success story.”

Taylor adds that she, “is determined that she is going to do exactly what she needs to do in life to be self-supportive on her own. So we are extremely proud of her.”

The D.C. Department of Human Services oversees the homeless shelter.

And yet another challenge in her life was being without a father who was killed just before her first birthday.

She is still, however, inspired by thoughts of him:

“I just want to know so much about him,” she says in a May 31 accounting in Good Black News. “Growing up and not having a dad, as a female, it’s really a tough thing. You have to learn to love yourself.”

She adds, “And just because there’s not an older man in your life to be that dad, you have to get that from your mom. I wish I had a dad. I think about him a lot.”

The high school grad admits that she had doubts and at times lost hope along the way. But as noted in Jay Korff’s ABC News on June 11, she had the help of supportive teachers, staff, friends, and family and she poured all that she has learned in overcoming obstacles into her studies.

“I started to give up,” she says in her commencement address.

“But then God gave me a sign that he wasn’t putting me through this to punish me, but to show others how to be resilient and persistent in achieving the goals of life.”

Anacostia High School Principal Ian Roberts says in Kim that, “her story is truly an inspiration.” Classmate Dazhane Mathis in Sam Ford’s June 10, ABC 7 News contends that Rashema’s story, “inspires me a lot because I know there’s a lot of negativity around me, and just to see her, it makes me realize that I have to block everything out and just focus on myself.”

Citing a requested email response, counselor Jessica Schimmerling, says that, “I saw Rashema’s high school transcript before I ever met her.

She was coming into Anacostia as a junior, and her transcripts was almost straight A’s which really surprised me because that is well above our average grades.”

Schimmerling adds that the very first thing she said when we met was, “Why didn’t you put me into any more AP or Honors classes?” I replied, “You must be Rashema Melson!”

The guidance counselor reveals that Rashema is in the top 1 percent of all the students that she has had over her four years at Anacostia and that, “she has always been searching for the next activity, the next program, and the next set of experiences to make her resume and transcripts even better than before.

“She participates in the Book Club. Track and Field, several Advanced Placement courses, and countless other activities while maintaining her excellent grades.”

Schimmerling recalls that her homelessness has never even factored into any conversation and that Rashema, “has never once asked anyone to pity her, think of her differently, or treat her special.

In fact, she never explicitly even told me about her homelessness, despite us talking almost daily!”

At Georgetown, Rashema is eligible for two scholarships – the Community Scholars program, a scholarship initiative offered to bring ethnic diversity to the Georgetown campus, and the 1789 Scholarship funded by the alumni, parents and friends of Georgetown University to retain students who display excellence in academics.

“We have selected Rashema Melson for the resilience that she portrayed in her academic career,” says Cinthya Salaz, director of Georgetown University’s Community Scholars Program.

As noted in Joseph Park’s May 29, The Georgetowner, Salaz adds that, “Despite the tough personal background she comes from, she pulled through and displayed excellence.”

Rashema says in published accounts that she hopes to get into pre-med at Georgetown towards the goal of becoming a forensic pathologist, although her more immediate dreams involve having her own room to study, as well as a place to shower in privacy.

“I just want a home. I just want somewhere I can call mine.

I want somewhere I can feel comfortable. I want my own shower,” she says in Ford.

And her closing message to her fellow graduates at the June 11 commencement: “Never be afraid to go after your dreams, and regardless of the negative forecast that has been predicted upon us, beat the odds and let the sun shine.

“Each step we take is paved with possibilities. Now go unlock the door to your future.”