WASHINGTON — It was a normal Saturday morning for Martece Yates.
It was the summer after she graduated from the 6TH grade. Yates’ mother polished the brass furniture while she dusted and cleaned the windows and mirrors. A strange man dressed in a suit unexpectedly approached their doorstep. What he told them has followed Yates for the last 25 years.
In 1988, 67 rising 7th graders at Kramer Junior High School in Southeast Washington were chosen to receive college scholarships through the I Have a Dream Foundation, a national initiative that helps children living in poor neighborhoods achieve higher education through financial support and other services.
By 1994, 76 percent of the Dreamers graduated from high school—compare that to the 27 percent of the other students in their neighborhood— but by 1998, only 10 percent had completed college, according to a study done by the foundation in 2011.
“They had proved that they wanted an education desperately…and somebody in some way should give them a helping hand,” said Phyllis Rumbarger, who had worked with the Dreamers as an educator from 7th to 12th grade.
So, she gave them one.
She created a new fund to award scholarships called Fulfilling the Dream- Southeast 67 Scholarship Fund. Its purpose is to provide Dreamers and their families with monetary assistance for higher education.
“The priority people that would qualify first assuming all the other criteria were met, are the original Dreamers,” Rumbarger said. “The reason for that is because many of them were not able to go to continue their education in 1994.”
The reasons for that varied.
Some needed to provide additional income for their household, forcing them to enter the work force. Some were incarcerated or had a parent incarcerated. Others had younger siblings or their own children to care for. A few had to deal with a parent being addicted to drugs.
Yates nearly had all of the above.
“My mom was getting high long before I ever knew, but she hit her rock bottom between [my] 9th and 11th grades,” she said.
By the time she graduated high school, Yates was pregnant with her first child. She decided that staying home and attending the University of the District of Columbia was her best choice. That way she thought she would be able to take care of her child and her mother, who was addicted to crack-cocaine.
“I felt that if I left, she would possibly overdose,” Yates said. “I felt like there was no one that is going to be able to watch my mom like I would.”
It was only a few semesters before she decided to put her dreams on the back burner in order to fully provide for her son’s needs.
Yates had always dreamed of becoming a nurse or a doctor. She went to Eastern High School for their nursing track and planned on getting a degree to practice medicine after graduation. Once her children got older, she felt like it was time to focus on her aspirations once again.
“When you constantly get turned down for promotions because you don’t have a degree, it kind of stings a bit,” she said.
In 2009, she enrolled at Trinity University.
When the I Have A Dream Foundation caught back up with Yates, she was working full time at a local non-profit, raising two children with her husband and in her junior year of school for a nursing degree.
In January, Yates was awarded $3,000 to go towards her degree as one of the six inaugural class of the “Fulfilling the Dream- The Southeast 67” Scholarship.
Rumbarger said she hopes to continue giving out scholarships to the Dreamers and others trying to finish their college education. For more information, visit: fulfillingthedream.org
A movie created from the study, “Southeast 67,” was accepted in the 2015 DC Independent Film Festival and will be showing on February 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Barracks Row Theater Church.