Meet Jermal Muhammad, a second year Member at Public Allies Connecticut. Jermal is Lead College Access Advisor at Higher Heights Youth Empowerment Program (HHYEP) where he has been piloting a citywide FAFSA completion drive in New Haven, Connecticut. When we checked in with Jermal, he had already held 8 FAFSA workshops and assisted over 150 students to complete their FAFSA forms.
But here’s the thing. Jermal was only tasked with completing 4 FAFSA workshops. When asked why he’s gone so far beyond what was asked of him, Jermal replied, “When I was in high school I felt like there were opportunities and resources, but I didn’t know about them. They weren’t promoted in a hands on way, and no one made an effort to make that personal connection with me to understand what I hoped to do after high school. I don’t want any student to not apply for college because they don’t think they can or don’t know how. I don’t want them to repeat my experience.”
And that’s what makes Jermal’s story so interesting. Having grown up in the foster care system, he graduated high school in 2006 and went on to obtain an associates degree. He then began taking courses at Western Connecticut State University in psychology and social work. By all measures, Jermal was on a successful path. Then things hit a snag. At 24 years of age, he no longer qualified to receive state assistance for higher education.
“I had timed out of the [foster care] program and they told me it was going to be really expensive. I didn’t know how to make it work. I hadn’t done my FAFSA. I thought I would just take a year off. Then I had my son and I was concerned about how I as going to pay for school while raising him.”
Jermal continued to put off school and found himself at 30 years-old working as a part-time security guard earning around $7,000 per year. In the spring of 2017 Jermal was contemplating his future. He wasn’t certain what he wanted to do, but the long-time foster youth mentor and head coach of the Hamden Popwarner team knew people kept telling him he was great with youth. That’s when a friend talked to him about their experience in AmeriCorps and how it had helped develop their leadership skills. Inspired, Jermal began looking around and found out about Public Allies Connecticut.
Accepted into the program in the fall of 2017, Jermal is completing his second year of Public Allies and credits it with giving him the confidence he needed to go back and finish his bachelors degree.
“When I have parents and students come up to me thank me; it’s the confirmation that I’m making a difference. This is the type of difference I want to make. I want to make a difference with people. I want them to feel safe, and have access. Public Allies [through leadership trainings and the experiences I’ve had] built my confidence to go back to school. It’s woken me up.”
Jermal will soon begin taking courses at Albertus Maginus College in New Haven, Connecticut with the goal of someday becoming a school principal, because, “They set the tone for the culture of the entire school.”
For more information on the challenges children raised in foster care have in obtaining college degrees, see here.