Breaking generational curses
Jemia Bell-Sandy pushed herself through high school and into college. Raised in a home of three by a single mother who never finished high school, she wanted a different life for herself.
“Graduating high school was everything that I needed to move on and break that generational curse,” she said.
Even willpower has limitations, however. As a first-generation college student at The University of Baltimore, she struggled to find her way without guidance or knowing where to find it.
“There was no baton passed down to me. There was no paper or instructions on how to get through college, how to pass college, how to pass your classes.”
It took time. She spent six years pursuing a B.S. in Health Management. She had to balance rigorous academic work with multiple jobs and care for her young son.
“Graduating is for myself, and graduating is also for my son,” Bell-Sandy said. “I get to pass that on down to him, and I get to share my memories of college, show him how important it is to go to college, how fun it is to go to college. I’m able to give him a blueprint.”
Bell-Sandy will receive her bachelor’s degree in December and has already started taking classes toward an M.S. in Health Administration at UBalt.
She said she chose the programs with a goal to add value to the health care system. She wants to work toward a career overseeing a company serving the intellectual and developmental disabilities population.
“If I could manage a department or small company, I know that I could switch up the quality of care being provided to our patients and also change the dynamic and break stigmas within the health care industry,” she said.
When Bell-Sandy came to the University of Baltimore, she joined the UBalt Connects mentorship program and met Llatetra Brown Esters, UBalt’s dean of students and a fellow first-generation college graduate. She credits Esters with helping her find her way through college.
“She was the person that pushed me to keep going, that reminded me that I’m almost finished. Everything that I prayed for—my prayers are being answered.”
Going First is an ongoing series highlighting the students, alumni, faculty and staff part of the UBalt community who were the first in their families to earn a bachelor's degree. Read more first-generation stories.