Growing up in and around South Los Angeles, USC Annenberg strategic public relations master's student Jacqueline Jackson experienced woes that she knows not every member of the USC community can comprehend.
Jackson's seven-year-old cousin was shot in the heart and killed. As a teenager walking home from school, Jackson witnessed shootings, navigated police lines and viewed memorial candles burning on block corners. It all seemed standard, but none of it should be.
"The things that I've seen, and the interactions that I've had, at one point became normalized for me," Jackson says.
Higher education – and USC in particular – helped change that worldview.
As a kid, Jackson once asked her mom's friend what the three letters on his sweater stood for? Those letters turned out to be "USC" – a place where her mom's friend worked as a custodian. This was, Jackson says, the first – and a rare – time that she'd heard of the university located so close to her home.
"Nobody else talked to me about going to 'SC," Jackson says. "I just remembered and kept the school in my mind and in my heart."
Today, Jackson (vice-president) and undergraduate sociology student Rikiesha Pierce (president) are the co-founders and leaders of the student-run group called SOLID USC – or, Students Organizing for Literacy, Inclusion and Diversity.
On Saturday, Feb. 16, SOLID plans to welcome perhaps 200 mostly local middle school and high school students – and their parents – for the 2013 SOLID Steps to College Fair.
"SOLID USC began as an observation of a void in our community," Pierce says in a recent email exchange. "Jackie and I recognized that while USC is doing tremendous work in the local community, there were never many black students at outreach events facilitated through programs launched by USC. We felt frustrated that we were not reaching our own community and we wanted to change that."
So, last summer, SOLID was born. After a handful of initial, smaller events, the group is now days away from pulling off an extraordinarily ambitious undertaking.
Saturday's Steps to College gathering is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. with breakfast and registration. The event will conclude with an early afternoon step show plus spoken word, vocals and rap performances from USC students.
During the hours between, attendees will hear a keynote address from USC Gould School of Law professor Jody David Armour. They'll also participate in various "Getting to College Success Workshops" with titles ranging from "The Effects of Social Media on Your Path to College," to "This Ain't High School," to "The Importance of Involvement."
The latter session will be facilitated by Michele G. Turner, executive director of the USC Black Alumni Association. Many other USC students, staff, faculty members and alumni have joined SOLID's Jackson and Pierce in making Saturday possible.
For example: Syreeta Greene, assistant director of the Transfer and Veteran Student Programs in the Office of Campus Activities, will moderate the mid-day breakout session, "Rebuilding the Community." USC Rossier and USC Viterbi professor Anthony B. Maddox and USC Dornsife American Studies and Ethnicity assistant professor Shana Redmond and lecturer Anthony Sparks are among that session's panelists.
USC Annenberg Ph.D. student Dayna Chatman will moderate the breakout session, "Fitting In: Navigating Race in College." Four graduate students from four different USC schools will be among that session's panelists. And USC Annenberg alumna Ebonee Rice will moderate, "How Did I Get Here? Regular Admissions, Transferring and Non-Traditional Paths to College."
USC Annenberg clinical associate professor Alison Trope is SOLID's academic advisor. Trope first met Pierce when the student took the professor's COMM 395: Gender, Media and Communication and COMM 465: Gender in Media Industries and Products courses.
"She's just a very special student," Trope says of Pierce. "She's very genuine. She's very smart. She's very driven. And she's also extremely funny."
Trope, who also speaks highly of Jackson and others involved with SOLID, played a pivotal role in helping SOLID secure funding for Saturday's event. The majority of that support – which includes providing complimentary lunch for all attendees – comes thanks to the USC Annenberg Diversity Initiative. Additional support was provided by the Black Student Assembly and the USC Volunteer Center (Joenique Rose).
Trope notes that Pierce and Jackson are each Norman Topping Scholars – a designation for high-achieving students who are often the first members of their families to attend college.
"Their goal and their vision," the professor says of the SOLID duo, "is to give something of that access, and the knowledge of those resources, to other people in the community who may not know that USC is a possibility."
As Jackson says: "This is an opportunity for me to provide the space, resources and faculty relationships to students in the community that I never obtained. It's through this conference that students will be able to see themselves as part of USC and not distant from it."
Pierce concurs. "If only African American students knew that college is a place where they can pursue their dreams," she says, "whether it be singing or rapping or owning a business, starting a clothing line, being a scientist – whatever – it would change the conversation of education in the black community."
Adds Pierce, days away from doing both the USC and neighboring communities a great SOLID: "Deep down inside, I know that little girls that look like me look up to me. I want them to see me at USC, so that they can see themselves here as well."
Visit here for more information and to register for SOLID Steps to College