Atlanta-based Chelesa Fearce proved her situation didn’t define her. As a teen, she was homeless yet she became valedictorian of her class at Spelman College and is now headed to Yale Medical School.
As a teenager, she studied by the stove light at extended-stay motels to rise to the top of her class in high school before heading off to Spelman.
“The 23-year-old made national news in 2013 with her story of triumph over adversity — finishing at the top of her class at Clayton County’s Charles R. Drew High School with a 4.5-grade point average while homeless and living sometimes on one meal a day,” Atlanta Constitution Journal reported.
“Homelessness taught me how to work hard, always persevere and never let anything get in my way,” Fearce told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently. She had received a full scholarship to Spelman. She graduated in 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry.
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Following Spelman, she worked for two years at the National Institutes for Health in Bethesda, Maryland, where she did research on drugs for neurological and psychiatric disorders.
She received a full scholarship to Yale Medical School along with a stipend to cover living expenses. Her goal is a career in psychiatry, she said.
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“It really helped show my resilience when I applied for college and medical school,” she said when asked about hen she was homeless and her single mom was dealing with joblessness and cancer.
Her older sister, Chelsea Shelton, has also excelled despite the odds.
“Shelton was salutatorian at Atlanta’s Carver High School, with a 3.7 GPA, at the same time Fearce was valedictorian at Drew. She had a full scholarship to the University of West Georgia and graduated with honors in 2016 with a degree in criminology,” AJC reported.
Shelton now works at Georgia’s state Department of Juvenile Justice as a corrections officer. The new mother is a first-time homebuyer at age 24.
The mother, Reenita Shepherd, survived her battle with cancer and is raising her youngest two children, one of whom goes to a prestigious Atlanta private school on scholarship. Reenita is a caretaker to a former homeless shelter director and foster parent to four siblings.
Fearce has inspired others and the Clayton County school system annually awards scholarships to local homeless students with good academic records in Fearce’s name.
“The scholarships of $250 to $1,000 come from donations collected in the county, which ranked first in the state in 2016-2017 in student homelessness with about 2,700 students,” AJC reported.