“Why am I feeling like a victim when I can be victorious?”
-Latifah Sharpe ’17
Latifah Sharpe knows the realities of being a first generation college student all too well.
Though she and her mother found themselves living in a shelter while she was in high school Sharpe was able to chart a new direction for her life by enrolling at Fort Valley State University. As her graduation on December 9th gets closer and she looks forward to fulfilling the dream she’s had since 2nd grade, Sharpe is intensely proud of what she has accomplished here. The family and consumer sciences major has overcome academic challenges, traveled abroad to Italy, and found her passion in helping others. Now, as she prepares to pursue a career in social services and infant and childhood development, she wants to motivate, encourage, and inspire others.
She doesn’t pretend that her transition to college was easy. Initially, she had problems adjusting and with the academic regimen. Instead of letting those difficulties inhibit her progress, however, she used them to catapult her into service and helping others. “I discovered I had a calling on my life and that I had a purpose,” she said. “I have to be intentional and to be a light.”
Like many students, Sharpe summoned the courage to overcome obstacles that tested her determination. A tough class caused her to be placed on academic probation. Chaos in her family left her without a permanent home. On campus, she had difficulty fitting in at first.
“As a first generation college student, people don’t realize how much support you need,” Sharpe said.
Her grandmother helped her think differently about overcoming challenges, using the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly to help her see how she could emerge from one stage in life to another. Her FVSU family helped her fill other voids. A fellow student invited her to church service at For His Glory Christian Center in Warner Robins, GA, and having a church home helped her develop a greater sense of security and purpose. She began to dream bigger, and seized an opportunity to study abroad in Italy, where her global perspective grew through dialogue with students there.
Back on campus, she connected with FVSU’s Campus Ministries, which encouraged her to develop a “connection group” where students could share stories about challenges and triumphs. She was intent on seeking a way to help others, especially women, overcome adversities they faced as college students.
“Why am I feeling like a victim when I can be victorious?” she asked herself.
Her group, Butterfly Glory, took flight. She connected with other first-generation college women who were facing similar struggles and began telling her story to motivate others. She also became a ear for other students, holding listen sessions around campus where they could have conversations about everything from healthy relationships to self-care.
“Each day I was walking on campus and I would see one of their faces and I would realize I’m not alone,” she said.
As she graduates and pursues a career in social work, she hopes to turn her Butterfly Glory work into a non-profit to continue helping young girls.