From the slum to an Ivy League

Abraham M. KeitaNews

Abraham Admission to Yale“God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good”: This is a famous line usually cited by pastors and the congregation during church service and sermons. As a Muslim, it is a frequent phrase I use whenever I visit Christian colleagues or speak at church functions, since my understanding of the Bible is far too little. Indeed, God has always been good to me and my family, through thick and thin, cutting across the mist of time. As Denzel Washington once said, “I didn’t always stick with him, but He always stuck by me.” It was my Rabb’s graciousness that placed my name in the pantheon of renowned teenagers, Children’s Peace Prize winners, and global activists. Without Allah, I wonder what my life – and everyone’s – would be like.

My parents never had an opportunity to obtain primary or secondary education due to extreme poverty. Neither my father nor my mother has ever seen or stepped inside the rectangular walls of a classroom. Dad died – well, was murdered by rebels during Liberia’s 14-year civil war when I was only 5 years old. Without a formal education, dad understood and recognized that  education was a sure way of breaking the vicious cycle of poverty that has plagued his family for generations.

His short-lived life was dedicated towards educating my siblings and cousins, though the roots of poverty had long cemented in our family. His meager income as a driver was used to feed the entire family as well as pay school fees to ensure that my siblings were given a shot at obtaining quality education. At the time of his death, my eldest sister was in 11th grade, but she and all other seized to attend school after he was killed. Things became so difficult that death seemed to be the only liberating option for my mother, aunts, uncles, siblings and everyone in my family.  We had lost all hopes and the world seemed to have turned against us. Many days, I recalled family members wondering whether we had offended God.

I also wondered if it was possible for a child to have a dream in my slum community – West Point. One day, at the tender age of nine (9), while sitting with my mother, I randomly asked whether I too was going to be a driver like dad someday. Mom, astonished by my question, starred at the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean as the sun set and vowed to spend all her little earning so that I could go to school. I saw tears rolled down her cheeks as she embraced me. She believed and was optimistic that since I was the youngest in the family, I would be focused and dedicated to becoming a better person for myself, my family and country. So I enrolled in the only government school in West Point, the N. V. Massaquoi Public School. In her eyes, I was the family’s hero. Her faith in me surpasses anything I can ever imagine. Most times, she would remind me of our family’s conditions.

Mom has been my strength, inspiration, and the single thread which keeps me going. In 2016, I became the first high school graduate in my entire lineage, in over four generations. A year after, my brother who is 3 years my senior, also graduated. At the moment, we have younger siblings – cousins, nieces – who are in elementary and junior levels. A repetition of “firsts”, I am also the first-generation college student in my family.

My improbable journey to college enrollment has been one of determination and perseverance. I must say that previous attempts to apply to universities, during my last two visits to the US to speak at events, proved futile. In September of 2017, Organize For Liberia (OFL), Inc. invited me to the United States so that I could work on my college application. Upon accepting the invitation, I was flown to the United States.

Though I harbored little self-doubt, however, I mustered the courage between October 2017 and January 2018, and submitted applications to five schools – Amherst College, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Harvard, and Yale Universities. Each of those applications would, perhaps, take more than two days to complete. And then, there are tests to write (SAT), school scores to report – finally, recommendations from high school counselors and teachers.

In late March, I received five admission decisions. Having assessed all and in consultation with my family and friends, I have selected Yale to be my home for the coming years. People often say college is the place most suitable for fun, meeting new friends and making lasting connections. If this is so, then I wish to experience all these in the geometric walls of Yale.

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