When Deanna Jordan looks at her three little boys, she sees promise and hope.
Her optimism, however, isn't just reserved for her children, ages 9, 7 and 5. She sees this in all kids, especially those growing up in underserved communities like the one she once lived in, children who might fall through the cracks if not for some encouragement and guidance.
Jordan, a 28-year-old single mother and UCLA student who is wrapping up her undergraduate degree while simultaneously working on her master's, both in African-American studies, realizes that education and opportunity should not be taken for granted.
That's why she founded the Compton Pipeline Taskforce (CPT), a year-old program administered through UCLA's Community Programs Office. CPT is one of the office's 30 student-initiated community and student support projects offering educational, legal, social, medical and academic services to poor and predominately minority communities throughout the Los Angeles area.
Under Jordan's leadership, UCLA student volunteers travel to the city of Compton six days a week to work on academics with students at Carver Elementary School, which Jordan herself attended, Willowbrook Middle School and King–Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science.
'She wanted to do something big'
The core mission of Jordan's task force and its "Talented 90%" program is to increase underrepresented students' awareness of the educational opportunities available to them, foster civic engagement, and instill cultural pride and empowerment in the community.
"There will always be a top 10 percent who will make it to college," said Jordan, who lived in Compton until she was 13, when she moved to the city of Los Angeles. "But what about the 90 percent that we forget about? What about the people who haven't had the idea of pursuing higher education instilled in them? What about them?"
Reading comprehension and the fundamentals of math, science, engineering and technology are critical components in the struggle to succeed in school and in life, Jordan says. So volunteers tackle these topics in ways that keep the Compton kids motivated and engaged.
Although still in its infancy, the program offers help in many forms — Saturday school, field trips, weekday after-school homework help, test preparation and academic guidance. Students at King–Drew high school are also being trained to serve as tutors and mentors for younger students.
One of Jordan's strongest supporters is Vusisizwe Azania, a community-service project adviser at UCLA's Office of Community Programs. "She wanted to do something, and she wanted to do something big," Azania said, emphasizing how important giving back to Compton was to Jordan.
Azania had told Jordan about a now-dissolved program initiated by UCLA in the aftermath of the 1965 Watts riots in which UCLA graduate students worked with various Compton city departments to help build and strengthen the community. "That became the seed for the Compton Pipeline project," Azania said. "She took the ball and she ran with it."
A personal commitment to education
Higher education and civic engagement weren't always priorities in Jordan's life. Just a decade ago, she was focused on finishing high school, getting married and starting a family. By the age of 18, she had done all three.
But as her views and goals evolved, Jordan decided that if she was ever going to establish a greater degree of financial security for her young family, something had to change.
"At the end of the day, I had to say that it was important to me," Jordan said of her decision to go to college. "I had to want it. Nobody could want it for me. Nobody."
So just 12 days after her youngest son was born, she started sociology classes at West Los Angeles Community College.
"I returned to school on June 8, 2008, and I never stopped," said Jordan, who earned an associate of arts degree from community college and transferred to UCLA in 2011. Jordan, a first-generation college student, has been honored as a departmental scholar at UCLA, allowing her to pursue her bachelor's and master's degrees concurrently. Ultimately, she plans to work in a field that will allow her to advocate for marginalized people and communities.
In addition to her classes, community service and family responsibilities, Jordan is also an intern in the office of Compton Mayor Aja Brown. This opportunity has not only given her a wealth of work experience and allowed her to network with a variety of organizations but it provides her with much-needed time to further develop the Compton Pipeline project and recruit student volunteers from other local colleges and universities.
"I am so passionate about the city of Compton," Jordan said. "There are a lot of misconceptions about the city, but to me, Compton is a diamond in the rough. There's a lot of greatness in there, and I feel that now is the time for it to be discovered."