Bringing Hope Back Home helps Wayne County students prepare for college

For many minority students, money is one of many factors that affect their decision to attend college. Oluwakemi Dauda, a senior at the University of Michigan, has provided solutions to these problems for Detroit area students through her organization Bringing Hope Back Home. She founded the organization during her freshman year of college because she wanted to help other students like herself who did not feel prepared enough for college.

Oluwakemi Dauda. Courtesy photo.Dauda attended Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine, where 92 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and 75 percent of the seniors in 2019 were the first in their families to attend college. When she was in high school, the pressure of taking the SAT and applying to colleges came around during her senior year. 

“Most of my peers agree that we felt unprepared. We felt we weren’t competitive enough to compete with our peers within other districts,” says Dauda. 

According to the Michigan Center for Educational Performance and Information, nearly 6,200 fewer graduating seniors in Michigan enrolled at a two-or four-year college in 2020. African Americans and economically disadvantaged students had the lowest college enrollment rate. Detroit Community Schools in Wayne County had 39.6 percent of its graduating seniors enroll in college last fall, a 9.7 percent decrease from the previous year. 

Other school districts in Wayne, including the Hamtramck Public School District, experienced the biggest drop in college enrollment. The school district had a 60 percent college enrollment rate in 2019 compared to 35 percent in 2020. In Wayne County, the largest race living in poverty is African Americans. The decline in college enrollment echoes the disparity that exists in higher education for minorities. 

Dauda moved to Nigeria at the age of seven and returned to the US five years later for high school. She envisioned American education just like the movies: competitive, enormous resources and opportunities for every student, and a challenging curriculum. The fantasy she had about American education quickly changed when she enrolled in Ben Carson High School. 

“When I saw ceilings were not in place, leaks in classrooms, not enough textbooks for every student and the textbooks we received were from other closed down Detroit Public Schools, and substitute teachers taught for whole semesters or years, I wondered is this what American Education is? I felt cheated,” says Dauda. 

She was disappointed and discouraged when the principal came around the classroom and advisory classes and called students one by one asking what ten colleges they were applying to. 

“The principal critiqued us based on what places we chose and questioned some of my peers why they were not applying to college. We didn’t feel confident to even open the common application for college,” she says.

Now, Dauda advocates for equity in education and shows students that higher education is possible through BHBH. BHBH helps students with editing their college and scholarship essays, provides students with scholarship resources and advice on how to apply, walks students through the college admission process, resume building, financial aid, essay writing, and standardized tests preparation through monthly webinars, and allows students to schedule one-on-one free college advising sessions with Dauda. 

Students can also participate in a week-long summer workshop to create a high school portfolio, college application breakdown, SAT prep and strategies, summer programs, and financial aid resources. 

Due to COVID, BHBH canceled last year's in-person summer workshop, but they’re planning to host the workshop virtually this summer. “Now that everything is virtual, it gives a bigger platform to be able to reach more students through social media,” says Dauda. 

Damilola Olabanji, a senior at Warren Woods Tower High School, found the BHBH monthly webinars and scholarship posts on Instagram helpful when applying to colleges. 

“I follow BHBH on Instagram, and it’s easily accessible for me to find scholarships and save it for later,” she says.

 Olabanji also says that organizations like BHBH should exist because it makes it easier for students like her to find the tools needed to apply to college. 

“What they’re doing is useful and helpful for students. They are always sharing information and opportunities to help students.” 

Shamara Watkins, a senior at Michigan State University and digital content producer for BHBH, added that she didn’t have access to college and scholarships when she was in high school. 

“Knowing that I wasn’t given the same opportunities as my peers in the school district and other states, BHBH’s mission resonated with me. This organization deepened my passion for education and made me realize that I am a person who can go about change.” 

Bringing Hope Back Home is partnering with Detroit-based student organizations and school districts to help more Detroit students succeed.  

“If I can help just one student feel more comfortable about the college application process and the transition to college, I have done my job,” Dauda says.

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