Most evenings you can find UCLA student Deanna Jordan at home on her computer, engrossed in assignments and class readings. This may sound typical for any dedicated college student, but most undergrads don’t have a trio of elementary school-age children diligently doing homework alongside them.
“I’ll stop my work when they ask questions, and if it’s something that I know they can teach each other, I will have the older one mentor and tutor the others,” said Jordan, 28, a first-generation college student and mother of three who is set to graduate this week with a bachelor’s degree in African American studies.
Having her sons, Kailyn, 10, Dylan, 8, and Kingston, 6, close by as she’s worked for many years toward this goal has been important to her. After all, they’re her prime motivators and the reason she undertook this long, arduous journey in the first place.
“I love the flame under my ‘behind’ that my sons put there by their mere existence,” said Jordan, who will attend a number of graduation ceremonies this week with her boys and other members of her family. “It’s an honor to be their mother and a joy to have them by my side as I accomplish my goals. They push me to success and greatness, and, without them, who knows where I would be.”
A personal commitment to education
Higher education wasn’t always a priority in Jordan's life. Just a decade ago, she was focused on finishing high school, getting married and starting a family. By the time she turned 18, she had done all three.
But as her views and goals evolved, Jordan decided that if she were ever to establish a greater degree of financial security for her young family, something had to change.
"At the end of the day, I had to say that it was important to me," Jordan said of her decision to go to college. "I had to want it. Nobody could want it for me. Nobody."
So just 12 days after her youngest son was born, she started sociology classes at West Los Angeles Community College.
"I returned to school on June 8, 2008, and I never stopped," said Jordan, who earned an associate degree from community college and transferred to UCLA in 2011.
Jordan has been honored as a departmental scholar at UCLA, allowing her to pursue her bachelor's and master's degrees concurrently. She is scheduled to complete the requirements of her master’s degree this fall. Ultimately, she plans to work in a field that will allow her to advocate for marginalized people and communities.
Jordan said it’s important for her to lead by example and be someone for her sons to emulate and admire.
“I want my sons to be great,” she said. “I want them to want to be great, and they will when they have a great example to shadow.”
She also wants to do her part to help other kids succeed.
That's why she founded the Compton Pipeline Taskforce (CPT), a year-old program administered through UCLA's Community Programs Office. The task force is one of the office's 30 student-initiated community and student-support projects offering educational, legal, social, medical and academic services to poor and predominately minority communities throughout the Los Angeles area.
Under Jordan's leadership, UCLA student volunteers travel to Compton six days a week to work on academics with students at Carver Elementary School, which Jordan herself attended; Willowbrook Middle School; and King–Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science.
She wanted to do something big
The core mission of Jordan's task force and its "Talented 90%" program is to make underrepresented students aware of the educational opportunities available to them, to foster civic engagement and instill cultural pride and empowerment in the community.
"There will always be a top 10 percent who will make it to college," said Jordan, who lived in Compton until she was 13 when she moved to Los Angeles. "But what about the 90 percent that we forget about? What about the people who haven't had the idea of pursuing higher education instilled in them? What about them?"
Reading comprehension and the fundamentals of math, science, engineering and technology are critical components in the struggle to succeed in school and in life, Jordan said. So volunteers tackle these topics in ways that keep the Compton students motivated and engaged.
Although still in its infancy, the program offers help in many forms — Saturday school, field trips, after-school homework help, test preparation and academic guidance. Students at King–Drew high school are also being trained to serve as tutors and mentors for younger students.
One of Jordan's strongest supporters is Vusisizwe Azania, a community-service project adviser at UCLA's Office of Community Programs. "She wanted to do something, and she wanted to do something big," Azania said, emphasizing how important giving back to Compton was to Jordan.
Jordan got idea for the project after Azania told her about a now-dissolved program initiated by UCLA in the aftermath of the 1965 Watts riots; to build and strengthen the community post-riot, UCLA graduate students worked with various Compton city departments. "That became the seed for the Compton Pipeline project," Azania said. "She took the ball, and she ran with it."
In addition to her classes, community service and family responsibilities, Jordan is also an intern working in the office of Compton Mayor Aja Brown. This opportunity has not only given her a wealth of work experience and allowed her to network with organizations, but it provides her with much-needed time to further develop the Compton Pipeline project and recruit student volunteers from other local colleges and universities.
"I am so passionate about the city of Compton," Jordan said. "There are a lot of misconceptions about the city, but to me, Compton is a diamond in the rough. There's a lot of greatness in there, and I feel that now is the time for it to be discovered."
(Story special to The New Tri-State Defender courtesy of New America Media.)