Unlikely Fulbright Scholar hopes her life story will motivate others

Unlikely Fulbright Scholar hopes life story will motivate others
Published: May. 9, 2015 at 2:43 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 23, 2015 at 4:02 AM EDT
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Lashawn Ford (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Lashawn Ford (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - When a distinguished University of Louisville scholar graduates with hundreds of others Sunday at the KFC Yum! Center, she will do so with four degrees. But her life has been anything but easy.

"It has been a pleasure to watch her grow," UofL Executive Director of Admissions Jenny Sawyer said of Lashawn Ford, 22.

Friday night Ford took part in a UofL pre-graduation celebration with academic honors around her neck.

The 2015 Distinguished Scholar earned a Fulbright research grant to the University of Kent in England seeking a Masters in Criminology, a subject she knows well.

"My father he was incarcerated for seven to eight years," Ford said. "He went away when I was about 11."

Her father was a major drug dealer on the south side of Chicago. Without him and living in poverty, it was tough place for Ford to grow up.

She said of her father's punishment, "It was for crack cocaine and he was on the FBI's most wanted and he was on the run for over 10 years."

Ford's life reads like a movie script.

"My mom, she's an exotic dancer," Ford said, "she's been an exotic dancer for 15 years."

Her two uncles are both serving time in prison for murder.

Her single mother was often on the move. From Chicago to Cincinnati, Ohio to Hebron, Covington and finally Erlanger, Kentucky. Embarrassed about her mother's job, Ford said she told her classmates her mother was a nursing assistant.

"As a child you don't want to sit there and say that's what you parent does because a lot of times people ask, 'what do your mom and dad do?" she said, "Oh my dad's incarcerated, while my mom's a stripper."

She was left in charge of babysitting her mother's youngest child. Because of it all, Ford struggled in school and admitted, sadly she was a bully. Her good friend committed suicide and she thought about doing it as well. Then her mother's words shook her to the core, "Just wait until you are struggling like me."

That life was one Ford wasn't willing to stay in. It became motivation for her and for the little sister she mothered.

She said she asked herself, "What else can I do? How can I not end up like my mom and everyone else in the justice system?"

She got involved in her school and her community: Sports, clubs and class President.

"I became a straight A student," Ford said, "I started turning my life around."

Her determination inspired her family, her mother went back to school and so did her dad.

"That's pretty amazing," she said with a tear in her eye. "My dad just got out (of prison) about two and a half years ago. He knew the things I was doing now and he got out and got a trade."

Now, Ford said her goal is to keep learning and hopefully inspire others.

Her thesis: The consequences for children of incarcerated parents.

Sawyer said with pride, "She will be a story that we can tell other students that will help them stop and think, wow you know, wherever I land I can make the most of that and I can do whatever I set my mind to."

Ford's four majors she earned are Justice Administration, Sociology, Psychology and Philosophy. Her mother, father, brother and sister will be among 20 family members on hand in Louisville to see her graduate on Sunday. She is the first person in the family to go to college.

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