Dahir "DJ":  Steering Towards Success

Arriving in the US at age 8, DJ expected to find a land of unlimited potential and prosperity. Growing up in Jigjiga, a primarily Somali region of Ethiopia, he’d heard stories of how dreams came true in America, how “money grew on trees,” he said.

His parents brought their nine children to the U.S. to escape Ethiopia’s civil war. They settled in the lush, green Northwest, embracing their hope for safety and security. Quickly, though, DJ noticed inequality in this land of opportunity. “My siblings and I were far, far behind in our education,” he said. “In Ethiopia, school was something only the wealthy could afford, so we never really studied.”

That was about to change. His father enrolled DJ and his siblings in public school, and DJ jumped in, speaking only a smattering of English. Fueled by classmates’ taunts over his speech, he vowed to perfect his English and spent hours practicing after school to improve. As DJ’s English grew stronger, so did his confidence. He started to fit in at school, his parents kept him focused on his studies, and his home life was busy and full. By the time he started high school at Kent-Meridian, life had fallen into a smooth routine.

But as high school progressed, DJ’s feelings of belonging started to falter. More and more, his peers were talking about college, something DJ hadn’t planned for. “I started to realize that no matter how hard you work, there are things in life beyond your control,” he said. For the first time, he saw that his family’s income could limit his opportunities—and that his parents simply didn’t know how to help him navigate beyond high school.

When teachers and advisors asked about his plans after high school, DJ fumbled through his answers, unsure of how to respond. Then his older brother applied to College Success Foundation Achievers, a college pathway program for eleventh and twelfth graders. Right away, DJ wanted to know more. He met with Randy, the CSF College Prep Advisor at Kent-Meridian.

“As Randy talked about college planning—FAFSA, scholarships, personal statements—I had no clue what he was saying,” DJ said. “I just nodded my head. But I knew that he knew what he was talking about, and that the Achievers program could be my golden ticket to college.”

And it was. With coaching from Randy and support from his CSF hometown mentor, Kent-Meridian principal Wayne Barringer, DJ began charting a course toward college. He applied and was accepted at Eastern Washington University. “They were my moral support, my role models and my champions,” he said.

After becoming the first in his family to graduate from high school, DJ started classes at EWU, where he would go on to become student body president. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 2015, another first for his family.

Today, he’s a CSF College Prep Advisor at Tyee Educational Complex in SeaTac. “I returned to CSF to help open doors for young people like me who want to achieve their dreams.” Helping low-income students navigate the challenges of getting to college is a dream come true, he says.

“CSF’s help made a true difference for me,” DJ said. “Now I want to help the next first generation open their door to opportunity.”

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