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USC students do a SOLID for the community

Local students and parents gather information at the SOLID Steps to College Fair on the University Park Campus. (Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Jacqueline Jackson, a strategic public relations master’s student at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, has experienced her share of woes while growing up in and around South Los Angeles.

Take, for example, the ever-present problem of gang violence. As a teenager walking home from school, Jackson witnessed numerous shootings and watched memorial candles burn on block corners. Tragedy struck home for Jackson when her 7-year-old cousin was tragically shot in the heart and killed.

“The things that I’ve seen, and the interactions that I’ve had, at one point became normalized for me,” Jackson said.

Higher education — and USC in particular — has helped change that view for Jackson.

Jackson vividly remembered the first time she learned about USC. As a child, she once had asked her mother’s friend what the three letters on his sweatshirt stood for. Those letters turned out to be USC — a place where her mom’s friend worked as a custodian. This was, Jackson said, the first time she’d heard of the university situated so close to home.

“Nobody else talked to me about going to ’SC,” Jackson said. “I just remembered and kept the school in my mind and in my heart.”

Today, Jackson and undergraduate sociology student Rikiesha Pierce are co-founders and leaders of the student-run group called Students Organizing for Literacy, Inclusion & Diversity (SOLID). As vice president of the organization, Jackson works with Pierce, who serves as president.

On Feb. 16, SOLID welcomed approximately 200 mostly local middle school and high school students — and their parents — for the 2013 SOLID Steps to College Fair.

“SOLID began as an observation of a void in our community,” Pierce said. “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.”

As a result, SOLID was established last summer.

The Steps to College gathering opened with breakfast and registration and concluded with spoken word, vocals and rap performances from USC students.

During the hours in-between, attendees heard a keynote address from USC Gould School of Law Professor Jody Armour. They also participated in various “Getting to College Success Workshops” with titles ranging from “The Effects of Social Media on Your Path to College” to “The Importance of Involvement.”

The latter session was organized by Michele Turner, executive director of the USC Black Alumni Association. Many other USC students, staff, faculty members and alumni joined Jackson and Pierce to help make the fair possible.

Syreeta Greene, assistant director of the Transfer and Veteran Student Programs in the Office of Campus Activities, moderated the mid-day session “Rebuilding the Community.” USC Rossier School of Education and USC Viterbi School of Engineering Professor Anthony Maddox and USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences Assistant Professor Shana Redmond and lecturer Anthony Sparks were among the session’s panelists.

USC Annenberg PhD student Dayna Chatman moderated the session “Fitting In: Navigating Race in College.” Graduate students from four USC schools were among the panelists.

USC Annenberg Clinical Associate Professor Alison Trope, who met Pierce when she took a class in gender, media and communication, serves as academic adviser for SOLID.

“She’s a very special student,” Trope said 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 the organization secure funding for the event. The majority of that support came from the USC Annenberg Diversity Initiative. Additional support was provided by the Black Student Assembly and the USC Volunteer Center.

Trope noted that Pierce and Jackson are 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,” Trope said, “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 said, “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.”

Pierce agreed.

“If only African-American students knew that college is a place where they can pursue their dreams,” she said, “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.

“Deep down inside, I know that little girls that look like me look up to me,” she added. “I want them to see me at USC so that they can see themselves here as well.”

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