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WUNC's American Graduate Project is part of a nationwide public media conversation about the dropout crisis. We'll explore the issue through news reports, call-in programs and a forum produced with UNC-TV. Also as a part of this project we've partnered with the Durham Nativity School and YO: Durham to found the WUNC Youth Radio Club. These reports are part of American Graduate-Let’s Make it Happen!- a public media initiative to address the drop out crisis, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and these generous funders: Project Funders:GlaxoSmithKlineThe Goodnight Educational FoundationJoseph M. Bryan Foundation State FarmThe Grable FoundationFarrington FoundationMore education stories from WUNC

Youth Radio Institute: Fontezia Walker

Our series from the WUNC Youth Radio Institute concludes this morning with a story from Fontezia Walker. She's 19 and had a number of setbacks while working towards her high school diploma. As you'll hear in this report, she and her sister struck out on their own -- by deciding to stay home.

Fontezia Walker: I live in a 3-room apartment in North Durham. Our home is filled with squeaky stairways, and the sounds of noisy neighbors. I live with my older sister, her son - and the memory of my mother.

Denyatta Walker: umm right know were in my room. umm this the room that my mother passed away in

Fontezia Walker: That's my older sister -- Denyatta. Our mom, Renee Green, died when I was 16. Denyatta was 18 -- which helped -- because she's a legal adult we could choose to stay in this apartment and I didn't have to go into foster care. We wanted to stay -- in part because it is the only home the 3 of us have ever known.

Jae'Von Walker: I like spiderman ice cream!

Fontezia Walker: Jayvon is my sister's son -- he was 15 months old when my mom died -- in the years since we've been keeping her memory alive for him, with pictures that are all over our apartment. Jayvon calls her GG -- mom wasn't ready to be called grandma.

Denyatta Walker and Jae'Von: hey javeon who is this?.. GG yep thats GG when she was what?.. was smiling.. when she was younger.huh..yea

Fontezia Walker: We take care of all of our own needs. Do the cooking, pay the bills, buy toiletries. we made a life that fit us. Luckily, we had our godmother, Pearl McGill to help us when we were down. After my mom passed, Pearl had a lot of worries...

Pearl McGill: I was concerned about the supervision that you have--I was concerned about whether or not you would stay in school and all the things that can happen to young females especially in the projects

Fontezia Walker: Pearl was right -- every day can be a struggle. We hear gunshots every couple weeks. Drug deals are made outside my front door. Trouble is so frequent that my family and friends came up with a warrning system that tell us when somthing is about to go down. Even so it's still hard for my sister and I to step foot outside are home.

Denyatta Walker: If Ican just pick my whole apartment up and take it some where else then I would be great. but I hate our environment becausae there's a lot of shooting out here umm its not a really good environment

Fontezia Walker: My sister is especially worried about her son Jae'Von saftey.

Denyatta Walker: I actually take him somewhere else to like Duke Park or something let him run around and play just a better environment and theres more positive people around

Fontezia Walker: It's hard to have to venture outside our home in order to feel safe. However even though the crime rate is high we can still find family in are neighborhood. Close neighborhood friends like Ah' Dina McTeier wanted us to stick around after the death of my mother.

Dina McTeier: I felt it was better for y'all to stay. We grew a really close bond like sisters. before mommy passed well before Renee passed and even now I'm glad they stayed.

Fontezia Walker: Having friends to lean on in a time of need is something that's kept us going. Surrounding ourselves with positive influences made us feel at times that we could do anything. People have doubts about me succeeding because I have no legal guardians and because I live in the hood, but I graduated high school and proved to myself that I can defeat the odds. In the stands on my graduation day were Denyatta, Jae'von, my godmother, and other members of the family that I have created. My sister kept my mother's spirit alive on that day.

Denyatta Walker: I was screaming for me and my mom and for everybody else that did'nt make it so I was doing a lot of screamin

Fontezia Walker: My godmother, Pearl, also looks back on that day with pride.

Pearl McGill: that graduation was one of the proudest days of my life - I thought man ..we did it.

Fontezia Walker: After facing many struggles we were still able to find great moments in our lives--by facing our fears and creating new family. We are ready to walk dwn the next road. Whether it leads to college or finding a new job. We can always find a way with the help of loved ones. With the Summer Youth Radio Institute, I'm Fontezia Walker, North Carolina Public Radio - WUNC

Fontezia Walker is 19-years-old. She says she's looking for a job and plans to attend Durham Tech in the Spring where she hopes to study journalism.

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