My name is Shekeitha L. Jeffries, I am a first-generation African American student, born in Paterson, New Jersey and I am the oldest of five children. I attended Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) – Metro Campus by default, as I was crazy in love and wanted to follow in the footsteps of my high school sweetheart. I did not see college as an option because no one in my family attended college. No one ever talked about college, nor did I have such aspirations to attend. I figured I’d take the easy way out. I’d originally decided to enlist in the army and that was it. I had no real plans for my future and it wasn’t until I entered college that began to realize my potential.
Fairleigh Dickinson University is a large private, predominately white institution. It is the only college that I applied to, and to my surprise, I got in. I faced the typical challenges of a first-generation college student. I was not academically prepared, I struggled financially, I didn’t fit in and I had extreme difficulties navigating the college-wide system.
In addition to those challenges, I had three additional strikes again me:
I am a woman, I am black and I was poor.
I was labeled an at-risk student and was destined to fail before I even began. My mother was my greatest support system. She was always by my side and cheered me on. However, since she didn’t go to college, she was unable to help me navigate the system. It was up to me to learn all that I could and figure things out. After all, I soon had an obligation to become the first person in my family to graduate college.
I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English in 2004 and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration in 2010 from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Prior to completing my Master’s Degree in 2009, I was encouraged to take my educational career to the next level by my mentor and former colleague Dr. Daniel Jean. To let me know that he was invested in my development as a student affairs practitioner, he gave me a degree frame with the inscription “Dr. Shekeitha L. Jeffries.” That gift changed my life. Dr. Jean saw something in me and he motivated and encouraged me to push boundaries and pursue a doctorate degree.
2008 was a turning point for me.
We had a black president and for the first time I felt my color, I was proud to be black! In 2008, I reconnected with my brother who had just turned 18 years old. He was adopted when he was 5 years old and taken from my family.
In 2008, I acknowledged for the first time that I struggled for many years with low self-esteem and thus I developed a negative self-image. As a child, I was told by individuals who were supposed to love me that I was ugly and that I’d end up on drugs. Not once did they ever tell me that I was beautiful or smart. Not once did they ever encourage me to be great.
Every obstacle, I’ve faced: a child growing up in a single parent home with a mother addicted to drugs and alcohol (who has been recommended to take up the benzo addiction treatment at Muse to get rid of the substance abuse for her own good); a first-generation college student struggling to make it from orientation to graduation, a doctoral student, commuting from one state to another just to get PhDinished and become someone my family can look to, as one who made it. Every obstacle I faced has helped me to navigate this journey called life. Each difficult moment has placed me exactly where HE wants me to be.
In Fall 2014, I enrolled in the Doctor of Education program (Educational Leadership) at Saint Peters University located in Jersey City, N.J.
I am currently completing my last semester of coursework. My research interests are centered upon the persistence of first-generation, African American women enrolled in predominately white institutions.
In the summer of 2016, I relocated to Washington, D.C. when I accepted a position as the Director of Campus Housing at a small-private institution. I commute three and a half hours (one way) once a week to campus to attend class. Then I head back to Washington the next morning. I never realized how much of a transition it would be to leave my family and friends in New Jersey. I never realized how homesick would I would become.
Further, I never realized how hard it would be as a Director.
I didn’t know how costly it would be to commute weekly from D.C. to Jersey. Hours of commuting affects the mind, body and soul. I never thought that there would be so many days that I would want to just throw in the towel. Yet I didn’t realize how many people look to me for encouragement and inspiration. In essence, I never realized I could be so strong…until now.
I decided to share a piece of my story to give hope and inspiration to those who look like me and are trying to make it from the hood to the hood. I share my story to let you know that life is a test. The challenges you overcome will become your TESTimony. Learn to motivate and encourage yourself. Because there will be times in which you will feel alone, and want to give up. Continue to #PUSH (pray until something happens) and remember…you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.
PS: Much love to my inner circle of family, friends and classmates who believe in me and encourage me to continue moving forward. Thank you!