“Anything that is worth having is worth working for.”
– Evelyn McCowen-Stevens, ’17
To say that Evelyn McCowen-Stevens has lived an interesting life is a bit of an understatement.
McCowen-Stevens was the first person in her generation of family to graduate from high school. After high school, the Fort Valley native moved to Harlem, got married, and had three children. While she was working at New York Telephone Company, she became a member of the Black Panther Party. Her family moved to Oakland, CA, where her husband worked with the organization’s legendary leaders Huey Newton and Bobby Seal.
There have been lots of challenges in McCowen-Stevens’s journey. She and her husband parted ways and divorced, leaving her to raise five children alone. She gave up her work with the Black Panthers and decided follow the Islamic faith.
“The movement became too strong,” she said. “That’s when I chose to become a Muslim. I enjoyed the Muslim teachings, and the diet (especially with growing children). I liked everything about being a Muslim. I liked the low profile.”
Even the strength she found through her faith couldn’t stop the danger she and her family faced from the changing nature of her neighborhood in California. Gangs were taking over, and she was afraid for the negative exposure her children were receiving. After her mother became ill, she decided to come back to Fort Valley, where she had a support system.
“The journey has been hard at times, but here I am thinking about how God’s mercy has always met me in some observable way,” McCowen-Stevens said.
It wasn’t until her children were excelling in their chosen fields, however, and she had 33 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, that she decided to go back to school. At FVSU, she found allies in the younger students and built lasting bonds with her instructors. She wishes more people over 65 years of age would take advantage of the free tuition for senior citizens in Georgia. Now 73 years young, she has advice for younger students who may think that college is too hard for them to complete.
“Anything that is worth having is worth working for,” she said. “So, whether the work is physical, mental, or emotionally draining, take advantage of all the positive opportunities that come your way. Because they say, it only knocks once so make sure you open the door.”