Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds

By Eugene Curtin 

Scholarship recipient overcomes obstacles; inspires, mentors first-generation students like herself

Jackie Crawford’s presence on the Creighton University campus is a study in the unlikely. The child of a single mother and an incarcerated father, who moved with her mother from Florida to a tough Kansas City neighborhood, Creighton was unknown to her. She didn’t know where Omaha was. The demographics of her high school were so daunting, she said, that Creighton didn’t recruit there. 

But there she is, in her final semester as a medical anthropology major. A recipient of the Raymond A. Bucko, S.J. Scholarship and the B.J. Roberts Endowed Scholarship, among others, Crawford will graduate in May, having enjoyed a busy and fruitful Creighton experience.

She has worked with Omaha high school students and new Creighton students who, like her, are the first in their families to pursue or attend college.

She serves as president of Peer2Peer, a mentoring program that matches first-generation upperclassmen and incoming freshmen at Creighton to assist with the college transition. She also has been the ambassador-advisor and tutor coordinator for Upward Bound, working with area high school students to help them prepare for college.

In addition to her work with students, Crawford serves as president of the Gamma Xi chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. She has also served as president and treasurer of the African American Student Association; student representative of the Black Studies program; and president and parliamentarian of the Association of Multicultural Greek Organizations.

How Crawford got from that tough Kansas City neighborhood to a position of leadership on Creighton’s campus is a story of perseverance, maternal and paternal urging, sacrifice and a fortunate suggestion by a high school teacher.

“It was instilled in me by my mom and my dad that I had to be good in school, but I really wasn’t set on college until I got to my sophomore year of high school,” she said. “My father went to prison when I was 7, so we really had no father figure in the house, but he would call me every day to remind me what I had to do.”

Her mother, Jeanette, proved a lodestar, providing a daily example of perseverance as she fought to raise four children alone.

“I really love her; she did so much,” Crawford said. “I saw her working so hard every day, struggling to take care of four kids and a bunch of nieces and nephews that she was helping to care for.

“It was just hard for me to see my mom struggle like that, and I didn’t want the same thing for me. I wanted to be successful and be in a position where I could give back to her.”

Her mother’s perseverance involved being laid off after 13 years as head cook at a youth correctional facility in Florida, and then founding a cleaning business in Kansas City, which has flourished. It was evidence to Crawford that hard work pays off.

The road to success, though well trod and passing almost invariably through higher education, can seem distant to kids raised in neighborhoods like Crawford’s, where she said gang violence was constant and teen pregnancy common. But she said she decided to rise above the “at risk” label placed on her because of where she lived.

“I told myself that I would graduate high school and go to college no matter what it took,” she said. “I just made sure that I stayed in the top 10 percent of my class and maintained an active involvement in school.”

As luck, and perhaps fate would have it, she mentioned to her high school English teacher that she would like to pursue a career in emergency medical services, and the teacher suggested researching Creighton University.

“I said, ‘I don’t know where that is,’” Crawford said.

But she looked into it, discovered Creighton’s excellent reputation and visited.

“I absolutely fell in love with the campus,” she said. “I felt like I was at home. They were so welcoming. Everything was just great. There were no questions in my mind.  And scholarships made it financially feasible.”

Crawford’s career goal has evolved, and she now hopes to become a federal probation officer and work with people much like her father, Cornelius — people whose lengthy prison terms have made the ways of the world strange and hard to navigate upon release.

“I want to be the person who … can help them take the next step once they get out.”