Darting across campus in an oversized hooded sweatshirt with "Oakland USA" written across the front, Laney College student Malika Ubaka is hustling.
"You want to buy a raffle ticket?" Ubaka asks a student. "The money is going towards a scholarship for students."
That same grind that has raised over $500 in scholarships for honors students, is the same hustle that has Ubaka continuing her education at Georgia State University this fall.
But just two years ago, the single mother and former reality TV show celebrity, returned to school starting off taking basic skills classes.
"When I first came to Laney College, I was afraid of math. I got more than I bargained for."
"When I first came, I was afraid of math," Ubaka said. "I got more than I bargained for."
Counselor Terrence Greene first met Ubaka two years ago when she joined a new student retention program, then called the African American Learning Community.
"She was one of the first students," Greene said. "She was just coming back to school and I happened to see her in drop-in (counseling session). I told her about the program I was running and she decided to join."
Besides being one of the first students in the program, she won a contest among students to name the program; UBAKA- Utilizing your Brainpower to Attain Knowledge Abundantly, an acronym based on her Nigerian last name.
"She was trying to find her way," Greene recalls. "After a semester with us, she saw the community and felt she was up to par to be a student."
Now, Ubaka takes 15 units per semester and attends intersession in winter and summer. She attributes some of her drive to her experience in the music industry. Coming from a family of talented entertainers, she has performed since a child. Along with her sister, Khaliah, she used to dance throughout the Bay as the "Oaktown Girls."
After dropping an album in 2003, she appeared on MTV's "Making the Band" with Diddy. After her initial audition in LA, she didn't make the first cut. She went home, worked hard and flew out to Miami for another go at it. She was cast in the second season. Ubaka didn't "make the band" the second season, but was kept on for the third season. Unfortunately, she was eliminated on the third episode.
That didn't stop her, though. It made her stronger.
While juggling motherhood, gigs, classes, auditions, court dates-and doing hair just to make ends meet-Ubaka manages to be an honor roll student. She is Vice-President of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), a two-year college honor society.
"She gives me the will to move past my circumstances and not be limited by life. She never gives up and moves toward a goal. Things may get a little tough, but she keeps moving forward."
Dr. Angela Cherry
Still, her true passion is music.
"I'm never ever going to stop doing music, but school is like my latest hustle," Ubaka said. "This is making me even more complete."
Because of her experiences, background and determination, Ubaka inspires both students and faculty.
"She gives me the will to move past my circumstances and not be limited by life," said Dr. Angela Cherry, communications professor and adviser to PTK." She never gives up and moves toward a goal. Things may get a little tough, but she keeps moving forward."
Ubaka will transfer this fall to study Media Communications at Georgia State University. Her advice to other struggling students:
"Just don't give up, don't ever, ever give up on what you want out of life," said Ubaka. "Just keep pushing in life to be as successful as you want to be.
"I'm gone be Dr. Ubaka before you know it."
She will graduate from Laney College with three degrees in African American Studies, Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. Then, Ubaka will trade in the hoodie for a robe.
And although she won't have her doctorates hood on yet, she'll be wearing kente, honors cords and a special tassel with her name: Ubaka.
Monday, May 24, 2010 Rasheed Shabazz