Age 22.
Graduate of A. Philip Randolph Academies of Technology. Graduate of Bethune-Cookman University.

As a little girl, Ashanti loved school and church, but her family had a secret: Her mother’s crack addiction. She still remembers clearly the day that child welfare authorities took her and her sisters to live with her grandmother.

In a way, she recalls, it was the best thing that ever happened to all of them. Her mother got clean, got a job, and the girls got good care with their grandmother.

But times were still tough. The way Ashanti tells it, there were plenty of people in her life that helped save her—even if they didn’t know it.

During those difficult years, the unwitting mentors included the school resource officer at Matthew Gilbert Middle School who took Ashanti under her wing, the pastor who told her she need not fear, for she had already “come into her season”—even the teachers who spent a moment or two after class, just listening.

They guided Ashanti through the minefields she faced, from the upheaval at home to the violence of the neighborhood that surrounded her, to the unplanned pregnancies of her sisters.

When she became the first of her immediate family to graduate from high school, Ashanti was second in her class. Now, a college graduate, she lives to motivate her younger sisters, who are still in school.

“To me, my inspiration is my little sisters, because they can see, if ’Shanti can do it, I can do it,” she said.