Stories From Students

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“I’ve Always Wanted More From Life”
—an interview with Aundrea Smith,
2012 Black United Fund of Oregon College Fair ACCESS Scholarship Recipient

“As an African American woman who had to grow up fast and learn to endure pain, I have faced many obstacles and setbacks on the road to higher education. My parents have been addicted to crack and heroin for over thirty years. I have had to support my family and push myself so that I didn’t become a victim of my circumstances. I grew up in a neighborhood surrounded by drugs, gangs, and poverty. At the age of eight I had to wake myself up to get ready for school and catch two city buses to elementary school while my mom slept and my dad wasn’t around…

I’ve always wanted more out of life and I’m determined not to follow in my parents’ footsteps…
It’s up to me to lift myself up…”

Described as “delightfully unstoppable,” Aundrea Smith is a beautiful and powerful woman on a mission. A native of Portland and the eldest of six children, Aundrea has battled through poverty, neglect, and the many institutionalized inequalities and dangers that plague our community. Her story is a hard one, from her memories of cloudy, smoke-filled rooms and the smell of crack cocaine and burned matches as a child to her daily journey of getting herself to elementary school on the city bus; from watching drugs and violence claim the lives of those around her to jumping out of a moving taxi while in crutches in order to avoid the lecherous hands of those who would take advantage of her.

Words like “determination” and “perseverance” don’t even begin to describe the path of this young woman who, in spite of working long-hours since the age of 15 to support herself and her sisters, more than once made the honor roll at her high school although she at the time did not know it. Resolved to get more than a GED, Aundrea left negative influences and unsupportive situations to attain her high school diploma in Detroit at an alternative school that allowed her to continue working and being supported by her grandma and aunt. She returned to Portland to take care of her great-grandmother, who had provided the most for her and her sisters in their youth, and began to take college courses at Portland Community College (PCC) while working full-time. Aundrea has since obtained her Associate’s degree from PCC and is working toward her Bachelor’s in Criminology and Criminal Justice with a minor in Child and Family Studies at Portland State University. She dreams of working in the criminal justice field as a probation officer or mentor, working with youth, adults, and families to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into the community, to make a difference in their lives and motivate them to change.

Aundrea is already pursuing her dream, dedicating herself to community service and gaining valuable experience that will help her pursue her career. Aundrea volunteered with a non-profit organization called Construction Hope, where she worked with adults with criminal records doing case management. Aundrea has also trained with Good Samaritan Ministries and Home for Good Oregon to be a lay counselor, which is a volunteer spiritual counselor, and prison inmate-mentor. She volunteers at the Coffee Creek women’s facility where she mentors two female inmates and will start going into the prison to do bible study with the women. She is heavily involved with the Highland’s Access to Re-entry Recovery (HARRP) doing mentoring with women and men coming out of prison and is working with HARRP to open a transitional house for women leaving the prison system so that they can best recover and reconnect with their families to become productive members of society. In Aundrea’s words, “I am passionate about influencing, encouraging, and impacting families. I want to serve at-risk individuals, people incarcerated, the forgotten, and those addicted to drugs and alcohol. By teaching and mentoring this population, I want to reach those who are ready to change their lives, to let them know they are not alone, and to show them alternative paths to living life.”

We at the Black United Fund of Oregon are so honored to be able to award this year’s 2012 College Fair ACCESS Scholarship to Aundrea Smith, a true warrior-protector shining her light on the world. Aundrea is also the proud recipient of Portland State University’s Diversity Scholarship, which will fund the remainder of her degree.

“I’m determined to excel and finish what I start no matter how hard the struggle…I don’t give up. I don’t allow my circumstances to hold me back. I was never pushed or made to go to school, nor even encouraged to go. It was something that I wanted to do and accomplish…I’m the first in my family to ever graduate from high school and to go to college. Despite my struggle, I have been dedicated to earn my bachelor’s degree and not give up...
I will make a difference in other people’s lives.”