JACKSON – The diploma Sade Memeh earns from Hinds Community College this semester will represent more than just an education – rather, a ticket to a life she didn’t think herself worthy of just a few years ago.
“Hinds saved my life,” said Memeh, 33, of Jackson. “I’ll be teary-eyed crossing that stage. My kids are excited for me.”
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Memeh came to the United States at age 3 along with her family. Trouble at home landed her in a group home for children for a number of years, where she earned a GED and was provided a car. She enrolled at Hinds at 18, but was too lost on too many levels to succeed.
“It was the streets and no family support that prevented me from finishing school sooner,” she said. “When you spend time in a group home confined, you don’t really know what to do afterward. In 2017, I quit a bad job in the foodservice industry and re-enrolled here. I was excited and it made me feel I had a purpose.”
Purpose turned quickly to self-doubt, however. A four-year relationship ended shortly after returning to school, and so did her living situation. She was left with unpaid bills and hopelessness while trying to provide for her two sons, ages 14 and 12.
“I went from saving up money in the bank for rent to not knowing what my kids were going to eat that day and peeking out the window for the constable,” she said. “I felt useless since I knew my children deserved more from me, but I couldn’t give it to them.”
“Sade is a success story today not because we helped her, but because she used that as a catalyst to help herself.”
Enter Hinds into her life once again – but this time, for good. Her passion for cooking, which grew strong even during lean times of holding menial jobs in the industry, led her to the culinary arts technology program at the Jackson Campus-Academic/Technical Center, directed by Chef Austin Lee. From there, she found out about social services available through Hinds in a program called Single Stop that helped get her life back in order while she focused on her academics.
“As most teachers can relate, we try our hardest to reach out and help all of our students when we see they are going through hard times, yet some students are not ready to accept that help,” Lee said. “Sade is a success story today not because we helped her, but because she used that as a catalyst to help herself.”
Memeh appreciated the smallest gestures Lee and others made to help her focus and finish school. “Teachers here like Chef Lee do so much more than just teach,” she said. “They inspire. I see them as family and friends. When I was down, all it took was for someone to say, ‘Hey, are you ok?’ and ‘It’s worth you being here.’”