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Graduating High School Without a Home

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Graduating High School Without a Home

Jasmine Edwards plans to attend East-West University in the fall.

There are a number of Chicago teens who didn’t get the traditional high school experience of dating, sports and extra-curricular activities. Some were homeless and had a tough time getting through high school period. A local scholarship program recognizes their efforts to make a better life.

A week ago Jasmine Edwards moved into an apartment on the West Side. She used to live in a cramped studio surrounded by drug dealers and drug addicts.

Jasmine is tall and thin as a reed. She mostly wears her hair flat-ironed and has skin the color of deep chocolate. Jasmine is now 18. At 16, she moved out of her mother’s house.

JASMINE: I didn’t leave. I was put out.

Jasmine says her mother emotionally abused her.

JASMINE: She would say I’d be pregnant and dropped out of school by 17. That’s like a lot of girls stories these days. I think that’s why I don’t wanna have a baby no time soon. I’m not finna give nobody a reason to say I told you so, you know?

Here’s her timeline: kicked out of mom’s house sophomore year, moved in with boyfriend’s family, got a place with boyfriend, he went to jail, Jasmine got roommates, then her own place. Now she’s in her second apartment. She never thought about making money the fast way by selling drugs or her body.

JASMINE: Stripping. Ugh. No, that never crossed my mind. Never.

Instead she got a job at Wal-Mart to keep the lights on. I meet Jasmine Edwards out front right before her 1 p.m. shift. Jasmine pulled a double the day before and only got off work at 6 a.m. Working and going to school full-time meant that she missed out on things like:

JASMINE: Parties, hanging out. Some trips. You gotta pay rent and can’t pay for the trip. It’s better now. I would say. Now I know how to budget. Now I learned a whole lot.

Jasmine earned a lot of Ds while attending Prosser Career Academy on the Chicago’s Northwest Side. She had no time for homework and fell asleep in class. She had to rely on extra credit, go to school on Saturdays and at night.

But Jasmine did graduate. She’s still going to attend East-West University this fall, and she wants to be a television anchor. Jasmine can rightly claim credit for much of what she’s accomplished, but actually she didn’t do it all alone; someone intervened.

SCOTT: I have pushed her to continue. I have called her in the morning and said get up and get to school. Or she will call me and say I’m running late. She’ll come and not eaten. So I’ll go and find her fruit. I’ve kind of taken over her mother’s place.

Patricia Scott is the school liaison for the homeless at Prosser. She says Jasmine’s mother never came to pick up a report card; she essentially ignored her child.

SCOTT: A year or so ago Jasmine, she was staying in an apartment with, I think, two girls. And it wasn’t working out. She came in one morning and she was a wreck. I mean, I could see it all over her face. Her hair was a mess. You could tell she hadn’t showered. She was just beside herself. And she just sat down at my desk and cried and said I have no where to go.

Scott took up a collection for Jasmine to get that first apartment. People who know Jasmine say her determination is fierce. But Jasmine still scratched out as much normalcy as she could, she likes pizza, scary movies and singer Chris Brown. Jasmine did attend prom in a light-green dress.

One of the scholarships Jasmine received was from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. I ask her if she ever wore the “homeless teen” label.

JASMINE: No. I always thought about myself as a person in the making. I always thought about it like this is just something to overcome, just something you’re going through right now. It never stopped me because I keep expanding, expanding, expanding. You know, I don’t set myself back.

Jasmine says she doesn’t want to remember the past. All she cares about is how she plans to carve out her future.

I’m Natalie Moore, Chicago Public Radio.

Read Jasmine Edward’s poems, “Love Shouldn’t Hurt” and “Light.”

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