On May 14, 2016 Dakota Crews graduated from the University of the District of Columbia with a degree in criminal justice. She is the first person in her family to obtain a high school degree and a college degree. And she did it while having and raising three children, now ages 6, 3, and 1.
Dakota’s accomplishment is all the more monumental in what she had to overcome to achieve it. Her childhood was so desperate that she had to prostitute herself just to have food to eat. Her uncle was murdered. She lost her brother to SIDS. Her mother’s boyfriend sexually abused her, leading to Dakota’s suicide attempt and psychiatric hospitalization.
“It wasn’t my choice to be raised as I was, so when I became pregnant I knew I wanted to make a different kind of life for my children,” says Dakota. “So I had to make a life for myself.”
“HBP Was There For Me”
She was just three months pregnant when she was connected to Healthy Babies Project’s Teen Parent Empowerment Program, and the support from the staff has made the difference between Dakota perpetuating the cycle of poverty and moving out of it. “They helped me learn to be a mom. And they helped me to get on a program to finish my GED,” says Dakota. “They were there for me.”
When she and her children were hungry, Dakota found nourishing meals at HBP. When she was homeless during a family crisis, HBP team members arranged for her to stay in a hotel. They advocated to get her a spot at the Virginia Williams Resource Center for Homeless Families until a spot opened for her at the District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH), a shelter for victims of domestic violence. Dakota remained there 17 months until she moved into independent housing with her children at age 21.
So when the staff encouraged her to apply to UDC, she did. “I felt I owed them,” says Dakota. Her mother, sisters, and even her HBP case worker stepped in to help watch her children while she took classes.
“There is No Way You Can Do This”
While HBP provided both practical support and motivation to Dakota to pursue her goals, others in her life did not. “My friends wanted me to sit in neighborhood and do nothing,” she says. “They said, ‘You think you’re better now because you’re going to school and you ain’t hanging out with us now.’” Even the father of her children tried to discourage her, saying she was not going to be able to change her life. “Finally I just said to him, ‘I am nothing like you. We both have the chance to pursue our dreams, but you haven’t even finished high school yet.’”
Dakota chose to major in criminal justice in part as a tribute to her uncle, whose murder has remained unsolved, but also as a way to give back.“One of my childhood friends was shot and killed on the streets in December,” she says. Dakota dedicated her UDC graduation to Healthy Babies Project and to the memory of her friend, who didn’t think she could make it out of poverty. “He is not here to see it. But I am here to live my dream,” she says.
“You Can Do This!”
Today, Dakota hears from other teen parent friends who tell her she is an inspiration. They know her story and they have seen her work incredibly hard to overcome obstacle after obastacle. What does she say to them?
“Go for it. Keep moving forward. You can do this. Don’t let anything get in the way.”
Dakota is pursuing a career in law enforcement. Her two oldest children are enrolled in Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School’s French immersion program.