Back in 2019 in Memphis, when Mia A. was beginning her freshman year at Southwest Tennessee Community College, she felt like she had unlimited opportunities. Yes, her parents weren’t particularly supportive of more schooling after high school. The biggest problem was Mia’s father. African American and raised in Chicago, he received disability assistance for his back and neck pain, a burden carried from his work as a custodian. Mia’s mother had immigrated from North Africa with a certificate in cosmetology. Both wanted Mia to work to help support the family. But from an early age, Mia was enchanted by learning. “Books, I loved books,” she told me. “I write poetry, and my teachers encouraged me, and I just want to write more.” She also had the good fortune to live in Tennessee, the first state in the nation to offer free tuition at community colleges for in-state high school graduates, save for the undocumented. So Mia had a chance to move forward despite any parental misgivings.
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