College came sooner than she first imagined

October 06, 2003|By Larry Bingham | Larry Bingham,SUN STAFF

LaDetra T. Johnson was going to college - with or without a scholarship.

The Paul Laurence Dunbar High School graduate had planned to get a job, and her mother, Geri Christmas, had begun filling out applications for a second job to help LaDetra pay for tuition.

That was before Coppin State College's new president, Stanley F. Battle, announced a program to seek out gifted students and draw them to campus with four-year scholarships. That was back in the summer, when LaDetra's mother knew her daughter would find a way because LaDetra had overcome so many obstacles to get this far.

"The toughest thing I've ever faced?" asks 18-year-old LaDetra. "Probably everything happening at once. I would think all the trouble was over, and something else would come up."

LaDetra's mom, an insurance claims adjuster, was laid off 10 days before Christmas in 1995. They lost their house and had to move in with relatives. That didn't work out, and they had to move in with other relatives. It was hard for LaDetra to be separated from her grandmother, Fannie Mae Allen, who had lived with LaDetra and her mother until then.

The three were reunited and living together again by the time LaDetra entered high school, and her schoolwork was the hardest it had ever been. Then LaDetra suffered another blow: her grandmother died unexpectedly, of congestive heart failure.

LaDetra's mom says of her daughter: "She knows that some things happen that you have no control over, but you have to be optimistic and that's what has helped her so far."

LaDetra's good grades at Dunbar attracted the deans at Coppin State who were seeking five high-achievers for their new scholarships. They liked the fact she volunteered at The Eubie Blake Daycare Center and the Baltimore City Fire Department and earned an Emergency Medical Technician and CPR certificate, so they awarded her the Raymond and Evelyn Haysbert Scholarship.

Today, LaDetra takes two buses across the city to attend Coppin. The study load is tougher than high school, but if she skips the soap operas she loves and continues getting by on four hours of sleep a night, she'll get through college and then consider a master's degree.

She wants to become a nurse or maybe a doctor. If she wants to get to medical school, her mom has no doubt she'll figure out how.

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