Being proactively invested in my academic development during my elementary, junior high, and high school years earned me the title “nerd,” with all of the negative connotations.
At school, I was accused of having a superiority complex because I was one of the only African Americans in the accelerated academics program, and this often led to me being bullied. These same bullies often became my inner circle because I desperately wanted to feel included so I embraced whoever would accept me in their circle, and this led to my acceptance of emotional abuse from my peers.
Though I excelled academically, my social life was devastating. When Mrs. Radin, my high school counselor at Sherman Oaks CES, introduced me to the Fulfillment Fund, I was relieved to finally find a truly nurturing peer support network. The Fund students and I shared so much in common that whenever I went to Fund events I felt affirmed about who I was and felt a real sense of community.
I was in the latter part of high school when, the Fulfillment Fund, in addition to being a place where I could be myself, helped me to prepare for college. My family expected me to be the first to go to a four-year college. They placed me on the college track but didn’t know how to help me navigate through choosing a school or completing applications and financial aid forms.
The Fund was invaluable in helping me to successfully enroll in Spelman College. When it was time for me to go to college, my Fund scholarship sponsors, Alan and Dottie Lay, remained a constant presence all the way through until I received a BA in English.
Upon graduation, I spent a few years in Washington, DC and then returned home to Los Angeles. Through Fulfillment Fund relationships, I secured my first job in Los Angeles after college. I worked at Excellent Education Development (ExED), founded by scholarship sponsors Bill and Laura Siart, before, during and after graduate school. And my dreams to attend graduate school were realized as a result of Fulfillment Fund staff counseling me into applying to Claremont Graduate University and, once I was accepted, helping me secure financial support.
Along my journey to earn a M.A. in English, I was able to attend the Sun Valley Writer’s Conference with other Fulfillment Fund scholars and alumni who share my passion for literature. The experience helped me conclude that I am not a writer, but my love for literature can be expressed in other ways, including my current profession as a professor of English at Santa Monica College. My overall experiences with the Fulfillment Fund helped develop my interpersonal skills enough to marry George Blackwell and parent four children.
Nichole Harris Blackwell, a graduate of Spelman College and Claremont Graduate University, is a professor of English at Santa Monica College. She lives with her family in the Los Angeles area.