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Freshmen From Palm Beach County Navigate Campus Life In Alabama And Tallahassee

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Luwinzie Wilson

Black university students are trying to adjust to campus life amid the pandemic and social justice protests. Two college freshmen from Palm Beach County say they’re navigating their first year in their own ways.

Luwinzie Wilson says her new normal began after a nine-hour road trip from Boynton Beach to an HBCU in Alabama.

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Wilson, 18, received a small scholarship from Scholar Career Coaching, a nonprofit after-school program that mentors college-bound students. The education major at Tuskegee University says there is nothing she wants more than to be the first PhD graduate in her family.

Her parents were more worried about her mental health than coming down with COVID-19 as she balances school life with social justice protests. Wilson recently joined the 2020 virtual March on Washington which commemorated the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The virtual march, led by the NAACP, pushed for police reform and voter mobilization.

This year, Wilson says, is marked by resilience. She and her friends, despite the unusual start to freshman year, are engaged, even imbued by the national conversations that surround social issues that they care about most.

“The March on Washington is now virtual so Tuskegee will be attending that. But to stay afloat, I think we do what Black people have always done, which is try to be resourceful until the light at the end of the tunnel, even when you’re in the darkest place in life,” Wilson said. “So that’s what we do. Lots of conversation about human rights as well — all across the board, if you’re Black and trans, Black and female, it’s an everyday conversation.”

Lynne W. Gassant, founder of Scholar Career Coaching, says the after-school program has been trying to close the opportunity gap by mentoring more than 375 students and awarding 30 scholarships since it started in 2012.

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Donia Beau-Frere

Donia Beau-Frere, 18, was awarded a laptop through the Scholar Career Coaching program. The Florida State University finance major lives near campus in Tallahassee and says though she makes her voice heard at times, she prefers to keep most of her attention on getting through freshman year amid the pandemic.

“I just try to not let it get to me because I know that it’s going to go away, the pandemic at most,” Beau-Frere said. “I just try not to think about it and focus on my work for now.”

Beau-Frere says technical issues with online classes is the talk around campus— hybrid education, the combination of online and in-class instruction, has added an extra layer of anxiety for most students.

Her attention right now, despite the "distractions," is spent on securing meal plans, deciding the right career within finance, warding off the sense of isolation from living away from home, and “watching Moesha on Netflix” as a form of escapism.