If you look at Ebony King’s childhood, you probably wouldn’t expect her to be a junior at a major university.
At age 7, she stood in fear at a crack house on Chicago’s South Side while her mother got high on drugs.
“She left me alone in one room,” King recalled. “She got high in the neighboring room.”
Before King graduated from elementary school, her mother had died and her grandmother who had helped raise her, also had died. Fortunately, a loving aunt stepped up and reared her.
And a couple of teachers and several other relatives also pitched in to provide a loving and nuturing environment. I would even check in on her — she is a second cousin.
We were practicing the African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child.
I thought about King and other young relatives who recently returned to class while too many blacks across the country continue to drop out of school.
King is a good example of how teachers, family and hard work pays off.
A couple of weeks ago, King started her junior year at the University of Missouri in Columbia. She is majoring in business management.
As a youngster, she often spent her weekends at another aunt’s home or at the residence of a godmother — one of her former teachers.
I sometimes would take her, my daughter, and two other female cousins on various outings. They were all around the same age. Once we went to a black rodeo. During another trip, a couple of us went to the Field Museum — the first such visit for one teen cousin.
And of course, I would lecture endlessly on how on getting an education and staying out of trouble. ( My daughter reminded me just a couple of weeks ago, the talks were getting old.)
I got involved with King when she was in seventh grade. I wanted to see her and other young family members do well in life.
Aside from King, my daughter, Ashley and my cousin, Michelle King, now are all college students.
One cousin, LaToya King, didn’t make it out of high school. She died at age 14 from an asthma attack.
We were all shocked and shaken.
Ebony King acknowledged that she went to too many funerals — and had it tough.
Her aunt Nancy King, who eventually raised her, lived in a neighborhood for a while that was so bad that she never went outdoors to play or hang out. There was even a march in front of their apartment to protest shootings and drugs that rocked the neighborhood.
“I would see fighting outside, I would hear shooting,” King recalled. “But I knew I had a goal to reach…I knew I had to work hard. I knew whatever I did, would follow me for the rest of life.”
While in high school, King belonged to an organization that flew her and some other students to Malawi in Africa to help build a school.
“They didn’t have a lot of resources, ” she recalled about the country’s residents. “They didn’t take anything for granted. But it was a very happy village. And people got alone. People in America take things for granted.”
King acknowledged that she sometimes thinks about the village when she has her own tough times. She said she feels blessed.
King’s hard work in high school paid off. She graduated as salutatorian at the University of Chicago Charter School. She also was accepted to more than 20 colleges, many offering financial assistance.
At college, King said she takes advantage of programs that help students with challenging course work.
Now, she plans to tutor other students — especially blacks at the college.
Blacks made up 6.6 percent of the University of Missouri’s 26,965 undergraduates last year, according to the school’s officials.
“No matter what obstacles you face, you can find to a path that will lead to success,” King said.
And she certainly has.
I was reminded of that last month as she sported her University of Missouri shirt at my home.
Norman Parish is a Chicago based journalist. For the last three decades, he has worked at newspapers in Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Phoenix and St. Louis, including the black owned St. Louis American and Chicago Citizen publications.