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Student and Alumni Stories

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Erika Padilla

Erika Padilla

“For twenty years I thought I was too stupid for college.  I had worked with youth in the Bay Area for over a decade as an educator teaching communication, arts, and video editing. I always told my students, “I believe in you.”  Then in the fall of 2011, laid off from work I loved, I had to turn that belief inward. Setting aside my own disparaging self-talk, I dared to step onto a college campus as a full-time student.

My goal was to major in Science and complete a certificate in Microscopy. I qualified for the Board of Governor’s Fee waiver which covered my tuition expenses. However, I could not stretch my monthly income of $575 to cover living and other school expenses.  I carried 17.5 units and worked 15 hours a week. I used my cellular phone to copy assigned reading until I could save enough to pay for my textbooks. I rode my bike and took public transit to get to school. I got my meals through community resources and recycled bottles for extra income. I received care for my lupus through Medi-Cal. Receiving the Oakland Scholars Promise Fund scholarship and other Foundation scholarships my next to last semester at Laney allowed me to avoid eviction and fill the gap between my income and living expenses in order to stay in school.

At Laney I found learning communities that believed in me and reminded me of my resilience. The APASS and TriO programs were my anchors, arming me with the keys to academic success. I maintained a 3.5 grade point average, served on a Standards Accreditation Committee, and was a Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society member.

I graduated with my degree in Natural Science from Laney College with high honors in May of 2014. This January, I was one of ten students accepted into Kaiser Permanente’s School of Allied Health Sciences Nuclear Medicine program. I won scholarships to attend the Center for Mind Body Medicine’s Professional training in October 2014 and the Advanced Mind Body Medicine training in February of 2015. I now work on the Outreach team at the College of Alameda and have more than doubled my monthly income.

Like many students I face the challenge of paying for the skyrocketing cost of education in comparison to stagnant wages. I am so proud to be a Peralta Colleges graduate and Laney Eagle. I will continue to soar toward my goal of being a Pediatric Oncology professional – on track to graduate in December of 2016. I am a lifetime learner and proud Boricua (my family is from Puerto Rico). At forty-two I am redirecting my career from working with youth in the classroom to become their ally in cancer care. Now I envision my future career and amplified community impact. I want to set global standards for pediatric cancer care so every patient is treated as a whole person, rather than just a disease to be eradicated. I will be an ally in healthcare with the same passion I have for my students in the classroom.”

Reagan Lolo

By the time Reagan Lolo arrived in Oakland from his home country of Haiti in 2010, he had learned enough about the importance of education to start taking classes at the College of Alameda. His plan was to use his newfound knowledge to provide ongoing support to the people in his native country. Today Lolo has reached that goal and beyond.

“When I got to Oakland, I knew that I was not going to just look for a job and make a few dollars,” Lolo said, now studying political science at the University of California, Berkeley. “The better education you have the better job you can get, and the kind of work I wanted to do required an education.”

Lolo traces his career goals back to his childhood days growing up in Port-au-Prince. At the age of 11, he found himself alone, without his parents, and living on the streets. “As a street kid, and very young, I had to work and find ways to survive,” he said.

In 1996, after several years on the streets, Lolo moved into an orphanage. There, he enrolled in school and became involved in other activities including a youth radio and television station where he did a musical show and anchored the evening news. He also took his first trip to America as a representative of Haiti at a conference on children’s rights in Massachusetts.

But political turmoil in Haiti would soon disrupt Lolo’s life. In 2004, after a coup unseated the sitting president, the orphanage he called home was shut down due to its ties to the former administration. Lolo soon organized a group of youth to clean up the orphanage and continue to use the facility as a safe place for young Haitians. When the police realized what Lolo was up to, he was promptly arrested.

After nearly three months in a jail cell, Lolo was released due to the efforts of human rights organizations and an American journalist. He soon began to work for his new American friend as a translator, and moved to a new neighborhood outside of Port-au-Prince. Like many places in Haiti, Lolo saw a neighborhood filled with children going without an education.

“So I started a little activity called SODA,” he said. “It was a little social movement to educate young children for free.”

SODA, short for Sosyete Djól Ansanm pou Demokrasi (which translates to “People Working Together for Democracy), ran activities similar to an after-school program and the idea spread fast. In a matter of several years, SODA had schools in a number of neighbors educating 125 kids.

“Haiti is a place with more than a 40 percent illiteracy rate, and from my experience much higher,” Lolo said. “Giving an education was one of the most urgent things to do.”

While Lolo was seeing the fruits of his labor in Haiti, his goal had always been to get an education in America, so he packed up and moved to the Bay Area. After attempting to enroll in a four-year university, he learned about the Peralta Colleges and began taking English classes in 2010.

“There was a structure at College of Alameda that I liked and classes I wanted to take,” he said. “So I made COA my home and started getting more info on transferring and let everything sink in.”

While taking classes, Lolo kept in touch with his friends and colleagues in SODA back home, but he also wanted to contribute to his new community. As a tutor, he saw an opportunity to do something for young people in Oakland and blend in the same kind of social work he did in Haiti.

After an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010, Lolo took his work further and began to give talks in classrooms across the Peralta District about the history and issues that affect his home country. To spread awareness even wider, he organized a few of the students he had been tutoring for a trip to Haiti. He showed them the poor neighborhoods where he had spent most of his life and visited the schools he helped create, bringing young leaders from Oakland and Haiti together to learn from each other through shared experience.

Now at UC Berkeley, Lolo is studying political science with the hopes of attending law school and perhaps a try at politics after graduation.

“I’m interested in politics as a way to serve my community. The social work we do is good, but politics can really propel that work,” he said. “Understanding the political system in this country will not only give credibility to what I want to do, but will also enable me to make connections between two worlds.”

Lolo recognizes that his hard work and dedication to his cause are what got him where he is, but is thankful for the role the Peralta College Foundation has played in his story.

“If you’re interested in education, it doesn’t always go well with working full-time. The Chancellor’s Trophy allowed me to work less and focus on my education,” he said. “It also allowed me to continue the work I was doing in Haiti from here.”


More on Reagan and his work in Haiti from Repiblik:


Also read about the triumphs of more Peralta students, including:

Alba Lopez, valedictorian at Merritt College

Khristophe Green, Chancellor’s Trophy winner

Brian Cervantes, former student body president at Laney College

Jonathan Roach, the first in Alameda County to begin his college career from inside juvenile hall

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    The District comprises four colleges serving northern Alameda County.