Philadelphia Futures Uplift

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A kind word can encourage someone to keep lifting the weight they are carrying despite its heaviness.

As part of his English 202B at Penn State University, Jamir Barnes was tasked with evaluating the levels of literacy and the impacts the levels of literacy can have on various groups, in addition to, students working with adult learners to guide them on how to improve their literacy skills. Philadelphia Futures Uplift was created as a result of this and is a space providing uplifting literacy where incoming and current collegians can receive encouragement, see positive examples, and hear testimonials that will help strengthen their persistence throughout college. It is our hope that we all keep lifting as we live out becoming who we are destined to be.

Philadelphia Futures Uplift will be an ongoing project as we look to always embrace and encourage collegians to come. Please fill out this form to have your uplifting story included.


Jamir Barnes
Sponsor-A-Scholar, Class of 2018
School of the Future, Class of 2018
Penn State University, Class of 2022

Favorite quote: “Do it afraid.” (Joyce Meyer)

College has been one of the scariest things I have had to embrace. Leaving my family and a community that I was so familiar with to enter an atmosphere that I was not quite sure of devastated me and caused me to almost say no. However, through the wise counsel and reassurance of Philadelphia Futures, I said yes to Penn State University Park. I said yes; however I said yes afraid. I was so afraid of change but I had to learn, and am still learning, even if I am afraid, I will just have to do it afraid until I no longer fear. As my time as an undergraduate student prepares to end, I am so elated that I did not allow fear to restrain me from such a life altering experience. I know you may be afraid but still do it, it will all be worth it.


Quadirah Bell
Sponsor-A-Scholar, Class of 2012
Communications Technology High School, Class of 2012
Gettysburg College, Class of 2016
Temple University, Class of 2018

Favorite quote: “When the going gets tough, put one foot in front of the other and just keep going. Don’t give up.” (Roy T. Bennett)

On my first day of class at Gettysburg College, I called the Director of College Retention and Success at the time, crying because I failed my first quiz and did not understand anything my French professor taught. I told her that I wanted to return home, but she insisted that I stick it out. Little did I know, this was only the beginning. Throughout my time at Gettysburg, I failed multiple assignments. However, Philadelphia Futures was always there to encourage me. My professors and staff at Gettysburg also helped me access the resources that I needed to improve my grades and adapt to the academic rigor of college.


Tariq Blakney
Sponsor-A-Scholar, Class of 2016
Abraham Lincoln High School, Class of 2016
Bloomsburg University, Class of 2022

Favorite quote: “Have a belief in yourself that is bigger than anyone’s disbelief.

Honestly, I don’t think anyone can prepare you for college and I mean aside from the academics. Think about it, how can you prepare for something you never knew existed, let alone exist in you? That was me. Beginning of my sophomore year I was dealing with a medical condition called epilepsy, which in my case is stress induced seizures. At the time I didn’t know what it was, I just thought maybe I just had the chills all the time. It really affected my grades which led to me getting kicked out of Bloomsburg. I was then hospitalized and had a bunch of neuro tests run on me. I was then put on medication which put me in a very deep depression and I felt miserable because all I ever wanted to do was play college football, pursue my dream, and I felt everything I wanted was just getting ripped out of my hands. I had no control over anything. Shari Cumberbatch, a huge part of my life, helped pull me back. She is one of the very few reasons why I was able to get back into school. Just like that I flipped the switch and took the summer courses required to get back into school. The uprising began. I started to pass all my classes consistently and the following semester, I made the football team and made a huge name for myself by becoming a full time starter. Look at me now, on track to graduate spring of 2022. I never thought I’d be here. Remember, God gives his strongest battles to his strongest soldiers.


Mingsi Chen
College Connection, Class of 2015
Northeast High School, Class of 2015
Temple University, Class of 2019

Favorite quote: “If you learned that you never want to do this again in your life, you still learned something.” (Dr. B)

Dr. B, one of my undergraduate accounting professors, shares the above message to prospective students at every info session for his co-op program. As a student or young professional, it is very important to keep an open mind and embrace all opportunities presented. We can learn something from every experience, whether “good” or “bad.” Don’t be afraid to try.


Vincent N. Costello, Jr. MSS, LSW
Sponsor-A-Scholar, Class of 2003
William Penn High School, Class of 2003
Gettysburg College, Class of 2007
Bryn Mawr College Graduate School of Social Work & Social Research, Class of 2013

Favorite quote: “I am not judged by the number of times I fail, but by the number of times I succeed, and the number of times I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times I can fail and keep trying.” (Unknown)

Fear of being the only one drove my anxiety about going to college. So much of my fear in my college journey was that the more I learned and grew, it would isolate me from my family. A fear that I would become so different that I would be seen as an outsider and not be welcomed with the same love that I would have received if I stayed with what was safe. Thankfully, those fears were never realized. I learned that we owe it to ourselves to see this through, so that we can show others with similar fears that they can do this too and that it will be alright.


Jestina Drysdale
Sponsor-A-Scholar, Class of 2009
Communications Technology High School, Class of 2009
Bloomsburg University, Class of 2013

Bloomsburg University, Class of 2015

Favorite quote: “If you have a dream, don’t just sit there. Gather courage to believe that you can succeed and leave no stone unturned to make it a reality.” (Dr Roopleen)

College was a dream for me growing up and I did not know how to make my dream a reality. I just knew that going to college was my ticket to more opportunities and to give back to my community. Growing up in South West Philadelphia had its obstacles and challenges. I grew up in a low-income neighborhood where going to college was an afterthought and no one in my family had gone to college. However, Philadelphia Futures came into my life by providing opportunities such as SAT prep, college overnight experiences, college tour trips, summer programs, and many other valuable resources. I had the tools, support, mentorship, and reassurance from Philadelphia Futures that I could succeed and make my dreams a reality. I am happy to say that I graduated from Bloomsburg University with my bachelor’s degree in mass communication and became the first person in my family to graduate college. My dream continued to grow and I also graduated with my master’s degree in counseling and student affairs. I currently work as a Student Affairs Professional in Residential Life at Stockton University. So my advice would be to continue to dream big and believe that you can succeed even through the obstacles that may be on your path. I understand you may be nervous about college, but this is your time to make your dreams come true!


Millo Dutervil
Sponsor-A-Scholar, Class of 2018
Northeast High School, Class of 2018
Penn State University, Class of 2022

Favorite quote: “You do not grow when you are comfortable, only when you step out of your comfort zone do you truly blossom into your best self.”

When I was 14 years old, my mother had brain surgery that would lead to her not being able to work. Watching her work ethic and the way that she raised my sister and me, I knew that I wanted to make her proud and uplift my community the same way that she uplifted my family. My goal in life is to bring generational wealth to my family and teach my community how to do the same. I am a firm believer in lifting as you climb and I believe that with my goal, I will be able to do so!


Clarissa Faustin
College Connection, Class of 2017
Hill-Freedman World Academy, Class of 2017
Lafayette College, Class of 2021

Riding the train to go to Futures – especially when I was running late – always seemed so much slower than I needed it to be. The same applied to me: for the longest time, I knew where I wanted to go in life, but it felt like I was hardly moving towards it. But here’s the thing: you’re moving much faster than you think, you’re doing far better than you give yourself credit for, and that train will always reach the station. Even if it seems like you’re moving slowly, you’re still moving.


Korinne Gerhart
Sponsor-A-Scholar, Class of 2007
Abraham Lincoln High School, Class of 2007
Temple University, Class of 2011

Favorite quote: “Whatever you are, be a good one” (Abraham Lincoln)

Like many kids, I was scared to leave Philly for college. I went away for a semester, which didn’t work out for many reasons, so I returned and enrolled at Temple University. I immediately got thrown into three jobs and was still taking care of my family. I didn’t take advantage of clubs on campus or study abroad opportunities. So I didn’t have much of a community at Temple. I wish that were different. I’m not sure what stopped me from branching out. Maybe it was fear, finances, or a little bit of both, but my advice to those scared to leave Philly is, Philly will be here when you get back. College is your time to explore and try new things. Don’t think about Philly when you’re doing it. I promise your good friends will be proud to see all that you have accomplished and all that you learned being on different soil. Take a chance. Book a flight. Come back when you’re ready or not at all. Whatever you decide and wherever your adventures take you, it’s okay. Enjoy it!


Katrina High
Philadelphia Futures, Class of 1997
Germantown Friends School, Class of 1997
Wesleyan University, Class of 2001
Lehigh University, Class of 2009; Villanova University, Class of 2016

Favorite quote: “It is not how you start the race or where you are during the race-it is how you cross the finish line that will matter.” (Robert D. Hales)

Being the first in my family to go to college meant I had no idea what was in store for me, but I went bravely and eagerly to face the unknown because it had to be better and couldn’t be any worse than what I was leaving. What I soon realized, when I arrived at undergrad, was my Philadelphia education had grossly underprepared me and I had to play “catch-up and keep-up” my first year. It could have been enough to break a person or cause one to second guess if college was right for them, but I knew I had to persevere. Luckily, I had Futures, my mentor, and family to reassure me I was exactly where I belonged. I had challenges that were unique to a first-generation low-income college student that not many people could or would understand, but nobody said college would be easy so I did what I needed to do to make it through. I am currently a successful pharmaceutical industry professional and small business owner and as I reflect on this time in my life I am reminded how far determination can get you. What I would like to leave you with may sound cliché, but you can do anything you set your mind to, even if you have no roadmap or blueprint. When it gets hard and you want to quit or the story you are telling yourself is that you are not where you belong, remember that you are exactly where you belong. As the great Maya Angelou said “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”


Qiaoyi Hou
College Connection, Class of 2015
Northeast High School, Class of 2015
Penn State University, Class of 2019

Favorite quote: “Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

In our lifetime, we have to make countless decisions. Among these decisions, we are the only person who can determine whether these decisions are right or wrong. When I was in college, I was someone who always worried about what other people thought about me. When I was seeking a full-time job, I remember that most of my friends were applying for a large accounting firm and my parents were expecting me to work for one of these companies. I, however, felt that the environment of a large company was not suitable for me. I shared my concerns with my College Success Advisor at Philadelphia Futures. Then, she enlightened me by sharing some of her thoughts. After consulting with her, I finally understood that we shouldn’t worry so much about how others think of us. In fact, we only need to do things that we think are right and meaningful. With the help from Philadelphia Futures, I was able to receive a full-time offer from a company that I like before I graduated from college.


Darius “Kountry” Humphries
Sponsor-A-Scholar, Class of 2004
The Strawberry Mansion High School, Class of 2004
Kutztown University of PA, Class of 2009
Ashford University, Class of 2014

Favorite quote: “When others have slept on, you wake them up by making your dreams a reality”

Look to your left. Now, look to your right because in four years, one of you if not all you might not be here.” You are a scholar, a Philadelphia Future’s Scholar. Don’t take for granted the experience you are about to embark upon. Everything that has made you from experiences you’ve been through to the toughest of moments have brought you here. Don’t settle in the moment, you have to keep going. Life was hard and humbling growing up. The challenges of survival, streets smarts, and academia are vastly separate worlds. They all come together to play a part in your development and making of your true character in college. Your future! If you are the first in your family to go to college the road is even rougher. Embrace it, put your pride aside, ask for help, listen but most importantly seize every opportunity. At times you will fail, those are teachable moments and life lessons, learn from them. You are the change this world needs, change the narrative for your family & community, dream big, and remain hungry in your pursuit of greatness!


Doha Ibrahim
Sponsor-A-Scholar, Class of 2020
Abraham Lincoln High school, Class of 2020
Temple University, Class of 2024

Favorite quote: “It’s not about having the skill to do something. It’s about having the will, desire, and commitment to be your best.”

I am a first-generation college student who attended high school in Northeast Philadelphia. Slowly understanding the different environment I was living in, I wanted to be involved in anything and everything I was able to get my hands on. I spent time getting good grades, filling up my resume, helping my community, teaching and so much more. After graduation, I took a deep breath and noticed that I forgot myself. I forgot to take care of my mental health. I was too busy trying to meet this standard that I felt was created in order to challenge me. And unfortunately today I am burnt out. I learned that it’s okay to take a step back and disconnect. Always remember, even if you can do it today because you are tired, there is always tomorrow. I know that I am a freshman in college, but I took this year to not join clubs or an internship. I am taking this time to understand my limits and what I am able to handle in order to sketch out the rest of my college journey.


Laura Lear
Sponsor-A-Scholar, Class of 2016
Kensington Health Sciences Academy, Class of 2016
La Salle University, Class of 2020

Favorite quote: “Make time.”

I encountered many instances where I just wanted my assignments to be completed. My advice is to make time to complete assignments. There is nothing worse than knowing you could have done better on that test or exam if you had only you gave yourself an extra hour or two. I myself had struggled with time management until I realized the importance of a physical planner. My friend encouraged me to use a paper planner and to factor in how much time I think I would need next to my assignments. After graduating, I still continue to use a paper planner and a calendar that I have posted on my wall. It was the best decision I made for myself in order to plan my time accordingly. If you find yourself struggling with time, writing things out can help you space out time accurately. Do not underestimate the power of the paper planner. If you find yourself struggling with time like me, write it out.


Caitlin Majkut
Sponsor-A-Scholar, Class of 2017
Bodine High School for International Affairs, Class of 2017
Penn State University, Class of 2021
Penn State University, Class of 2023

Favorite quote: ‘It’s never too late to be what you might’ve been” (George Eliot)

I am a first-generation college student and joined Philadelphia Futures my freshman year of high school. My father always told me education was the key to success and to go to college. However, where I was growing up college was not something many people talked about or did. Not to mention the HUGE price tag attached with College so I never thought too hard about it myself. After joining futures to impress my father I started to get excited about what the future held and all the opportunities I could have if I put in the effort. With every up and down there was; whether it be family, finances, or academics my coordinators and mentor were always there to listen and help the best they could. I will now graduate from Penn State in less than a month, return back for grad school in the fall, have traveled to amazing places, and made lifelong friends. It took a lot of hard work and dedication but balance is key when it comes to life so make sure to have some fun!


Amber W. Nichols
Philadelphia Futures, Class of 2006
William Penn High School, Class of 2006
Dickinson College, Class of 2010
La Salle University, Class of 2016

Favorite quote: “When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

As a foreign exchange student in Mexico, I had no idea what to expect. Although I was excited, I was scared out of my mind. I knew the best way to conquer my fear of being away from home and becoming fluent was to get through the program. The only thing that would’ve stopped me would have been me. Looking back, I’m so happy that I spent a semester abroad. If I didn’t go, my mind would be swirling with regret. Sometimes, taking that leap of faith is the jumpstart to getting to your destiny.


Jorge L. Padilla
Sponsor-A-Scholar, Class of 2020
Central High School, Class of 2020
Swarthmore College, Class of 2024

Favorite quote: “The race goes not to the strong nor the swift, but to they who endureth most.”

“Our parents sacrificed their dreams so we could dream. Never forget where you came from.”

Personal growth is a vital part of college that is augmented when being on-campus because of the various people you can come across (both students and faculty) that you can have intellectual exchanges with. Having your own space in college can also help you focus on your own needs and interests that you may not have been able to prioritize at home or in high school, as was in my case. I’ve realized that mental health is extremely important, so if you ever experience burnout, I highly encourage you to take a break and do something you enjoy—prioritize your health over your academics! I know many of us first-gen, low-income students struggle with extreme independence, including me, but IT’S OKAY to be interdependent and reach out to others whenever you need help with something, both academically and personally. Imposter syndrome affects us all, and in highly competitive institutions, sometimes it can feel like we are admissions mistakes, BUT THAT IS NOT THE CASE! Every single one of you is worthy of being where you are, and you owe it to yourself to pursue your dreams no matter how big or small. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!


Justin Santiago
Sponsor-A-Scholar, Class of 2011
Carver High School of Engineering & Science, Class of 2015
Thaddeus Steven, College of Technology, Class of 2018

Favorite quote: “Just keep moving forward.” (Walt Disney)

Kudos and salutations! You’ve hit a milestone and made it to one of the most significant events in your life and career. I too had the privilege to be a part of the Philadelphia Futures legacy. With the help of outstanding coordinators and my incredible mentors I am forever grateful for; I was able to get through High School, graduate college, and start my career as an Industrial Electrician. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, and what you wanna be; even when you’re a pro live life like a student always! There’s a place out there for everyone to fit but right now and forever is the time to get excited and be hungry for knowledge! Bloom where you are planted, keep your eyes on the donut and not the hole and to remember; trust the process.


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