Khadijah Williams is a remarkable woman who overcame homelessness, poverty and abuse to achieve her dream of studying at Harvard University. Her story is one of resilience, determination and courage in the face of adversity.
Khadijah was born in Los Angeles, California, to a mother who struggled with drug addiction and mental illness. She became homeless at the age of six, and spent most of her childhood moving from one shelter to another, sometimes sleeping on the streets or in abandoned buildings. She attended 12 schools in 12 years, often facing bullying, violence and discrimination from her peers and teachers.
Despite these challenges, Khadijah never gave up on her education. She loved reading and learning, and saw school as a way to escape her harsh reality. She enrolled herself in various programs and extracurricular activities for low-income students, such as Upward Bound and A Better Chance. She also sought out mentors and role models who encouraged her to pursue her goals.
She excelled academically, graduating fourth in her class from Jefferson High School with a 3.9 GPA. She applied to more than 20 colleges, and received acceptance letters from many prestigious institutions, including Harvard University. She chose Harvard because she wanted to learn from the best and make a difference in the world.
She graduated from Harvard in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. She was the first person in her family to earn a college degree. She also became a nationally recognized advocate for homeless youth, sharing her story with various media outlets, including Oprah Winfrey’s show. She currently works as a program officer at the Gates Foundation, where she supports initiatives that aim to improve educational outcomes for low-income students.
As she told Harvard Alumni Association, “I am where I am today because there are people who believed in me, and people took the time to support and motivate me. They gave me the tools to succeed, which made the difference between success and, honestly, the unfortunate reality of homelessness: chronic poverty, prostitution, and death.”
She also explained how growing up homeless affected her self-esteem and sense of belonging: “When you grow up homeless, you feel as though you don’t matter because society ignores you.” However, she also revealed how attending Harvard helped her to develop her confidence and identity: “I wanted to capture some of the belief they have in themselves from going to a place like Harvard.”
She admitted that escaping poverty did not mean escaping its impact: “Just because you escape poverty doesn’t mean you escape the impact of poverty.” She shared how one of the most painful aspects of her experience was not having proper shoes that fit her or matched her style: “What I was truly searching for was the dignity a normal pair of shoes afforded to my peers, but that was denied to a little homeless girl like me.”
She expressed her hope that her story would inspire others to believe in themselves and their dreams, no matter how impossible they may seem: “I hope my story inspires others to believe in themselves and their dreams, no matter how impossible they may seem.” She also urged people to recognize that homelessness is not an identity or a label, but an experience that can happen to anyone: “I want people to know that homelessness is not an identity or a label; it’s an experience that can happen to anyone.”
According to the U.S. Department of Education, there were more than 1.5 million homeless students enrolled in public schools in the 2017-2018 academic year. This represents an increase of 15% since the 2015-2016 academic year.
Homeless students face many barriers to education, such as lack of transportation, health care, nutrition, clothing, school supplies and stable housing. They also experience higher rates of trauma, stress, anxiety, depression and behavioral problems than their housed peers.
Homeless students are more likely to drop out of school or perform poorly on standardized tests than their housed peers. Only 64% of homeless students graduate from high school, compared to 85% of housed students. Only 10% of homeless students enroll in college after high school graduation.
Khadijah Williams is an example of how one can overcome homelessness and achieve academic success. She defied the odds and broke the cycle of poverty that trapped her family for generations. She used her education as a tool for empowerment and social change. She also used her voice as a platform for advocacy and awareness.
She should be celebrated because she represents hope for millions of homeless students who aspire to higher education. She shows them that they are not defined by their circumstances, but by their potential. She inspires them to pursue their dreams with courage and perseverance.
She should also be celebrated because she challenges society’s stereotypes and prejudices about homelessness. She reminds us that homelessness is not a choice or a character flaw, but a result of systemic failures and inequalities. She urges us to take action and support policies and programs that address the root causes and consequences of homelessness.
Besides graduating from Harvard and working at the Gates Foundation, Khadijah has also achieved the following:
- She was awarded the Horatio Alger National Scholarship, which recognizes students who have overcome adversity and demonstrated excellence in academics and community service.
- She was named one of Glamour magazine’s Top 10 College Women in 2010, which honors outstanding female students who are making a difference on their campuses and beyond.
- She was featured in the documentary film “Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story”, which tells the story of another homeless girl who graduated from Harvard.
- She was invited to speak at various events and conferences, such as TEDxHarvardCollege, Harvard Alumni Association, Soles4Souls, and more.
Khadijah Williams is a remarkable woman who overcame homelessness, poverty and abuse to achieve her dream of studying at Harvard University. Her story is one of resilience, determination and courage in the face of adversity. She is an inspiration for millions of homeless students who aspire to higher education. She is also a challenge for society to take action and support policies and programs that address the root causes and consequences of homelessness.
Trameka Pope is a exceptional young woman who has overcome many challenges in her life. She was homeless in grade school, pregnant in eighth grade, and gave birth to her daughter just three days before starting high school. But instead of giving up on her dreams, she worked hard to excel in her studies and extracurricular activities. She became the valedictorian of her senior class at Wendell Phillips Academy High School in Chicago, earning more than $600,000 in college scholarships.
Trameka’s story is not only inspiring, but also rare. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, only 40% of teen mothers finish high school, and less than 2% earn a college degree by age 30. Teen pregnancy is also associated with higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and health problems for both mothers and children.
Trameka defied these statistics with the help of her supportive family, teachers, counselors, and mentors. She also had a strong motivation to provide a better future for her daughter. She said, “I always said that I wanted to make change and I wanted to be in the history books, and I started with myself.”
Trameka took college prep classes at Kennedy-King College while attending high school. She was also a cheerleader, a member of the National Honor Society, and a prom queen. She applied to nearly 30 colleges and was accepted by most of them. She chose to attend Western Illinois University, where she plans to major in social work. Read more about Trameka here.