Full disclosure: I’m the senior program director for the DC Creative Writing Workshop. We’re always bragging about our students. The article below features the story of one of our writing club members, Kiana Murphy, who’s got a bright future ahead of her.
Given the educational hurdles in her neighborhood, Kiana Murphy’s had to overcome a lot to make it to her first semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall. But, with the help of the DC Creative Writing Workshop, she not only accomplished that feat, but did so while securing a full scholarship.
Attaining that goal alone might seem unlikely, given the grim statistics that marked Kiana and others like her. Those educational hurdles include the 16 percent high school dropout rate for 16-19 year-olds, “substantially higher than the district average of 10.1 percent,” according to recent data on Ward 8, which encompasses Kiana’s Congress Heights neighborhood.
The Social Justice Center at Georgetown University, which collected the info on Ward 8, also found that “one third (34 percent) of Ward 8’s population over 25 did not have a high school diploma, which was about average for the District.”
Additionally, 7 percent of residents don’t even have a 9th grade education, and the Median Annual Income is $32,348, according to recent statistics. These conditions are a result of poor schools and lack of access to educational resources such as decent school books and functional libraries.
Yet, despite these hurdles, Kiana made her dreams of higher education possible. It started when she joined the Workshop’s after-school writing club in 2005. “Writing Club is a true, life-changing experience. It helped me to express feelings so powerful that they scare even me sometimes,” according to Kiana’s essay on her experiences with the Workshop.
In writing club, Kiana and her peers read and gave critical responses to works of writers from various cultures and periods.
She wrote her own poems while mastering literary devices and learning new vocabulary. “I am grateful that Writing Club has become such an important part of my life,” Kiana writes.
In 2007, Kiana was among the seven students hired through the Workshop’s youth employment program, helping students resist the lure of the streets.
As a young-writer-in-residence, she assisted the writers-in-residence by providing extra support for classroom management and helping with other administrative duties. “I have had such a great time in this program—new people, new places, and a whole new life of words, stanzas, and emotions,” writes Kiana, who went on to win the Parkmont Poetry Contest.
She was also part of the Workshop’s drama club, which creates original adaptations of classical plays by reading the texts and rewriting them line by line before the Workshop brings in a professional director to help them rehearse and perform their works on a stage for the community.
During her time in the writing club, Kiana excelled in her classes to become the valedictorian at Hart and again at her high school, Friendship Collegiate Academy.
Prior to graduating, Kiana was among five students from her high school to win a Posse Scholarship, which covers the cost of books, tuition, and her room and board at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The scholarship’s process—that entailed her being nominated by the school dean and sitting through three intense interviews with Posse reps—was a grueling one.
Kiana, who sought and received her Posse Scholarship letter of recommendation from the Workshop, was up against more than 1,000 other DC students for the scholarship.
But, like the hurdles in her community, she overcame the process because she had to. “This is an opportunity to get out of DC and be in a different atmosphere,” she said, during a Dec. 23, 2010, interview on FOX 5 News.
Her goals? “I’m looking at going into Psychology and English, specifically Clinical Psychology,” she told Fox 5 News. “I want to help others because growing up in my neighborhood I was exposed to a lot of things.”
Earlier this year, a gunman shot and killed Raheem Jackson, a 16-year-old student at Woodson High, just outside of Kiana’s apartment in the 1300 block of Congress Street. There have been six shootings on Kiana’s block so far this year, three of them fatal. But, like everything else, she overcame those situations and is looking forward to a bright future.
If you ask, Kiana’ll tell you the DC Creative Writing Workshop kept her from being a negative statistics.
“It’s made me stronger in another way, too. I am now able to speak out loud and say what I’m thinking without any fear,” writes the young woman, who’s secure in being her own person with her own opinions.
“I would also like to thank my writing instructors for helping me to find out who I am, figure out my goals, and plan my route to the future,” Kiana continued.
“Now I know why I’m here: to strive for the best, succeed in life, and do remarkable things to change the world.”
For those interested in donating to the DC Creative Writing Workshop, Please visit our website at http://dccww.org and click the “Donate Now Through Network for Good” button.