By Dr. Claudia Marshall

Growing up in the “ghetto” of Kingston Jamaica, the possibility of attending college was not even a thought. Being successful where I grew up was not getting pregnant before graduating high school. So, to be able to say that I have obtained a terminal degree is a privilege.

I grew up in what I can now a dysfunction household, where corporal punishment and different types of abuse reigned. While my parents did their best to raise and provide for me, I can honestly say that without sports, specifically track and field, I would not be where I am today.

I have been running almost all my life, I mean that’s all we did at kids “race go deh so”, “race you go yah so.” So, one day, I decided that I would start doing track and field and joined the team St. Richard’s primary school after a sports day. I remember attending primary school championship and doing so well that I was select for a team that would travel to Disney World for a track meet. I was so excited to share this news with my parents and can still picture the smile being wiped off my face when I was informed that I would not be able to go due to my parents not being able to afford it. As a child, I could not understand back then why I wasn’t able to travel aboard or go on field trips like a lot of my school, team, and classmates.

Fast Forward to high school, and here I was telling my coach Lorna “I want to join the team and run the 400.” Joining the team was one of the best decisions I ever made. Track and field became my outlet for all the dysfunction in my life; it became my distraction. I went from training regular hours, to being introduced to the high jump by Lorna and Sir Lu, and hurdles by SIR G. Having these specialties practically saved me from a lot of my reality because I was leaving home early 6am and getting home late 9pm after practice. However, coming home that late while living in the ghetto scared my mom and she threaten to pull me from the sport due to be worried about the possibility of me “coming home when shot a fire.” Yes, this was a possibility, but I was gaining exposure and learning about a lot of life outside the ghetto. Track and field offered the opportunity to travel to different countries. Having this exposure not only introduced me to a life outside of my community but also made me aware of various resources available for furthering my education after high school. I was also able to connect with individuals from middle and upper-class communities, which opened doors to a plethora of opportunities. Therefore, I was to beg my mother to allow me to continue running as I focused on the bigger picture that, for the first time going to college was no longer a distant fantasy but a possibility. I believe I can speak for my mom and say she happy she allowed me to continue despite her concerns.

Upon graduating high school, I received a full track scholarship to Hampton University in 2008, and though it was a hard road, I gained a lot of exposure and was still as I have always been, focused on the bigger picture. See, I loved running and as good as I thought I was, I knew a career in track and field wasn’t for me. So, I tried my best to ensure that academically, I was always in a position to advance. College sports is basically a business and competing for “fun” was not an option as it was in high school. I spent my four years of undergrad trying to balance the pressures of being an international student-athlete, ensuring that I was excelling both in the classroom and on the track to ensure that I did not jeopardize my scholarship as I had too much to lose. I was successful in this effort and received my bachelor’s in psychology from Hampton University in 2012.

I then went on to get my master’s in counseling also from Hampton University in 2015 and recently graduated with a Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision. While pursuing my graduate studies, I had to work fulltime and rely on graduate assistantships to pay for school because as international students we don’t get loans. My journey from Kingston Jamaica to Auburn, Alabama by way of Hampton, Virginia has been mentally and physically draining. While gaining a scholarship to go to a university is a blessing, leaving home at 18 years old to spend years away from the only support you’ve know can lead to different mental health issues. However, in the end, I can say it was all worth it because this little girl from the ghetto that didn’t even know that she could go to college, can now call herself


Claudia Calder, PhD, LPC

Therapist at Perspective Counseling

“All great achievements require time” – Maya Angelou


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