AURORA, Colo. — At 17 years old, Naomi Barnes has a plan for her future.
“I knew I wanted to go to college as soon as I got to high school,” said Barnes.
She is hoping to attend a historically Black college or university after high school, and her heart is set on Florida A&M.
“It's just the culture mainly for me. The Black community in Colorado is super small, so being able to venture out and seeing more Black and successful people, that's what I really wanted to do,” said Barnes.
But COVID-19 is now threatening her dream.
“Before COVID happened, I knew where I wanted to go, I knew how I was going to get there,” said Barnes.
That’s not the case anymore. Remote learning is making it tougher to work with her college counselor.
“The scholarships were a little harder. That was a little different,” said Barnes.
Meeting the testing requirements has been harder, too.
“There's one school that I really want to go to that I have to retake my SAT for, and it's just hard because when I tried to retake it, they closed down the testing site," said Barnes. "Now, I’m just waiting and having to take like different tests I haven't ever studied for, like the ACT.”
On top of schoolwork, Barnes juggles multiple sports, including football with her twin brother, and a job at Waffle House.
“Not very many people, you know, grasp the option of a 9-5 after practice. It wasn’t a question for me, just because, like, it's something I'm used to. I like to work. I like to keep myself busy,” she said.
But these days, her job is more than busywork, it’s helping support her family.
“Right now, she's the only one working,” said Naomi’s mom, Roxanne Carter. “It's hard for me as, you know, as a mother because that's my job. I have to be the one working. I'm supposed to be the one taking care of things, but, you know, I have to be grateful for who and how she is.”
It’s a load many adults struggle to carry, but one this teen is taking in stride.
“For me, it's never been an issue because I'm going to be able to have my own money. I want to be able to provide. I’m very independent,” said Barnes.
Single mom Roxanne Carter is proud to see her daughter succeed, but she’s worried about what’s to come.
“She's got big goals, and how do you as a parent with no income meet those big goals or help her to meet those big goals?” Carter asked. “She's done her part as a student. How do you do your part as a parent?”
It’s a question with no easy solution. Carter was laid off months ago and stayed home to help her children and grandkids with remote learning.
“I had six learners all in different grades, all in different programs,” said Carter. “I could pick up some crazy work that's not going to take care of our financial needs, and then my children will be without my support.”
It’s with each other’s support that this family is pushing through. They’re working to end this challenging period as Barnes' college chapter begins.
“I’ve been dealt this hand. If I'm not reaching out and taking opportunities, nobody's just going to hand them to me,” said Barnes.
“I got to figure out how I'm going to get her there,” said Carter. “She's just not going to accept, you know, ‘this isn't possible.’”
That’s because Barnes knows the legacy she can leave is one she can reach and one that will help students just like her.
“Us poor people of color have been just existing. We haven't been living. We've been surviving. So, hopefully, you know, when it comes to the future, I'm impacting how we're no longer surviving, but we're living,” said Barnes.
Living a life where determination defines your destination, and a priceless education is something everyone can afford.