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The Inspiration to launch Berkeley Hope Scholars

by M. Michelle Kniffin, July 2005

Last night I attended the annual reception celebrating a new class of Students Rising Above. We heard the story of 12 extremely needy students for the class of 05-06. The student speaker for the evening was Kimberly Armstrong who will be a senior at Cal next year.

Kimberly revealed how she never shared her story before because she lost her voice. She and her two younger brothers never knew their father. Kimberly's "last memory of my mother is horrific." Kimberly and her two younger brothers witnessed her mother shot 16 times by their step-father as her mother ran in terror. She and her brothers stayed that night in police custody. For the next two years, Kimberly (10) and her 2 younger brothers stayed with their alcoholic grandmother. After 2 years of abuse, Kimberly, then 12, told her two younger brothers to pack their belongings. They stayed in a shelter for a while and later with a sympathetic aunt. At first, this aunt was understanding but before long she resented the responsibility of three children and the situation spiraled into more abuse. Kimberly found solace in her school studies concentrating on academics rather than her troubles. But she always worried about her brothers. One night her aunt held her brother down while beating him senseless. Kimberly froze and this was the night that she lost her voice. Eventually, a teacher noticed that her brothers showed signs of abuse and reported it to social welfare. Kimberly and her brothers were removed from the home and placed in separate foster care homes, breaking up what was left of Kimberly's family.

Today, Kimberly just finished her third year at Cal with a 3.5 G.P.A and more importantly she found her voice again. She shared with us what it was like to move into the dorms on her first day when she arrived on a AC transit bus with her duffle bag of clothes and nothing else. She thought that bedding would be provided like in shelters. Later that day, her roommate arrived with her entire family (mom, dad, brother and sister) with newly purchased items to furnish her side of the room. They happily went about setting up her side of the room and all left together for dinner. Kimberly did not attend dinner that night; who would she talk to? Instead she cried herself to sleep.

Maybe we can't change what happened to Kimberly, but together we can change this experience for future students. Maybe we could provide residence hall starter kits for students in similar situations, maybe we can be more...