A Home Run Out of the Housing Projects: Donique Wray's First Gen Success Story

05/26/2015 05:04 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2016

Growing up in the Jacksonville Housing Authority (JHA), Donique Wray had several strikes against her at an early age. First, her mom had run away from home at 13 to live on the streets and she had a hard time recognizing her own brilliance or that within Donique. Second, when Donique was 9, her father was sentenced to life in prison for committing murder. Third, she didn't have many role models in a world where she had to learn to self-parent and her anger often got the best of her. Then she met her college readiness counselor Travis Pinckney. Pinckney saw something special in Donique and he began to work with her stubborn attitude, her disappointment, and her lack of vision so she could start to heal from the setbacks of her past, develop a new sense of hope, and harness her stubbornness to fuel her dreams and goals.

"Donique is truly unique," Travis said. She defies the odds and utilizes her own thoughts, ideas, and writing to inspire others and the world. Despite her high school GPA of 2.8 and a history of skipping school her freshman year of high school, Pinckney encouraged Donique to focus on improving her ACT score, build her writing skills, and develop a strong group of friends who could support her in staying determined. At the time, Pinckney was recently appointed to the Board of Directors of HabiJax and was spending one-on-one time with David Hicks, former JHA Chairman and Ronnie Furguson, former JHA CEO learning about the value of serving people in the community and the determination it takes to reach your dreams. Their inspirational words resonated with both Donique and Travis. Donique worked tirelessly by re-taking whole credit courses she had failed and re-taking the SAT. She applied for and was awarded the Hicks Scholarship to attend the University of North Florida.

Reflecting back on her freshman year of college, a year that can break the spirit of many talented first-generation college students, Donique wishes she would have been prepared for three major obstacles that would have made the transition smoother for her. First, she would budget her time more wisely, as she wasn't ready for the college schedule and the need to plan ahead for assignments on a syllabus. Second, grading is much stricter in college than in high school and she wishes she were more prepared for the rigor of college-level work. Third, she would have better anticipated the pitfalls she experienced and have a plan to work through each. Despite these challenges, Donique made excellent choices to spend time with friends who nurtured her and were themselves on a path to success. She also took advantage of the Writing Center at UNF where she camped out weekly to rewrite, revise, and improve her papers. She knows that if she works hard now to improve her writing she will realize one of her life's goals to write books and blogs to help others. As a self-starter, she understands what many students don't about fighting for the people, resources, and opportunities that allow you to succeed through a strong ability to self-advocate.

With more deep thinking and exploration, she will figure out what she wants to major or minor in among criminal justice, sociology or English Literature. She also has the inner wisdom to know that regardless of what major she selects, her ability to be true to her own skill sets will complement anything she decides to study. Her supporters at Jacksonville Housing Authority including President Fred McKinnes, Director of Resident Services Rhonda Latimore and Senior Service Coordinator Cordelia Parker, among many others, are proud of Donique's success as a Hicks Scholar and will be able to see her graduate with her bachelor's degree debt free.

With one strong person to believe in her, Donique developed a vision of who she could become with a college degree. Seeing herself as someone who could work with unguided young women such as her former self, Donique understands that she could use her talents in ways that matter to her, work with people who demand a high standard from her as she begins to set that for herself, and change the world in positive ways as Travis and others have done for her. She has already changed the world in her own family. Her mom declared recently, "Donique has showed me how to believe in myself and she is the pillar of our family." A few months ago, she visited her dad in prison who was disappointed that her nails weren't painted and her hair wasn't styled a certain way. With a maturity and compassion that is usually seen in the oldest people in our society, Donique embraces her dad's judgment while gently asserting her own role as an independent, bright, successful, and self-possessed woman. Instead of responding with anger, Donique committed to writing her dad a letter to stand up for herself and transform their relationship.

Knowing what you know now about yourself, I asked Donique, how have you and how will you harness that fabulous trait of stubbornness throughout your life? "Looking at my future and comparing it to my past I will not create that for my own kids. I know which roads not to take. You can't get to a better place without enduring the difficulty of the challenges on the path. I'm ready to face those challenges and I'll stubbornly embrace the best for myself, my future, my family and all whom I can help." That is a home run out of the housing projects and into the major league, however Donique will define it.