Balancing Act


Karidia is a mother to two beautiful boys. She’s a student—more specifically, a double major in social work and communication with a minor in journalism. She’s a Champaign native who is active in her community and her church.

To an outside observer, the amount of tasks Karidia accomplishes in a day is incredible. To Karidia, she’s simply making a better life for her family.

“How do I do it? I don’t really have a choice. I’m a young mother with two kids. If I don’t get my education and enjoy it while I’m doing it, I won’t be able to provide for my family the way I want to.”

Although she makes it look easy, balancing so many things at once is not a skill Karidia learned overnight. Like most lessons in life, she learned it after surviving the challenges standing in her way—challenges that, at the time, felt insurmountable.

“I haven’t always been the best student. I tried to go to school right out of high school, and I got super distracted. Then I ended up pregnant, and I thought my world was going to end.”

Kiridia with her two sons and Parkland College mentor.
Karida with her two sons and Parkland College advisor, Donna Tanner-Harold, whom Karidia considers one of the most influential mentors she’s had in her life. “I appreciate her because she was that hardcore mentor. And you need that. You need someone to say, ‘Come back to reality just for a second.’”

After she found out she was expecting her first child, Karidia returned to Champaign to be closer to family. She enrolled at Parkland College as a childhood development major but still struggled to connect with her education. When she discovered she was in danger of losing her financial aid, she knew something had to change.

“I took a break, and I’m like, ‘Okay, let me get my life together.'”

One day during that break, Karidia visited UIUC’s Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. It’s a building she’d been to countless times before, but on that day, it held much more for her than a show. As she walked through the door, the sounds of student musicians drifted from the performance halls below to meet her ears, and suddenly everything changed.

“For the first time, I realized that people go to school to achieve their dreams. Before, I didn’t connect dreams and education. It was separate.”

Determined to find her passion, Karidia returned to Parkland with a new perspective. Thinking about what inspired her most, she turned to her experience in the CU 1-to-1 mentoring program.

In third grade, Karidia had connected with a mentor through the program and forged a relationship that helped guide her through the challenges of growing up. When she moved back to Champaign as an adult, she started working as a mentor coordinator in the same program. She knew firsthand the positive impact these relationships can have and wanted to make sure the next generation has the same opportunities.

“I see girls who, if they had the information or the knowledge pouring into them, they would reach their potential.”

Karidia realized what makes CU 1-to-1 so special is the connection it creates between students and mentors. In the context of her education, she wanted to pick a major that would teach her to build and curate these connections on a larger scale. After investigating her options, she decided on communication.

“I changed my major and I became a completely different student. I was so much more passionate about my education. It made a big difference.”

As a communication student at Parkland, Karidia finally felt like she had solid footing in her education. But when the time came to transfer to UIUC, she was not accepted as a communication major.

Determined to make her vision come to life, Karidia looked for other ways to get her foot in the door. She worked closely with Donna Tanner-Harold, her academic advisor at Parkland, who encouraged her to apply to the social work program instead. Karidia was accepted, and she started her journey at UIUC ready to succeed.

She spent her first semesters on campus working hard, balancing not only the transition to a new university, but all of her responsibilities as a mom and community member. Despite her many commitments, she was confident in her vision and relentless in her pursuit of it.

With months of toil behind her, Karidia applied again to the communication major. This time, she was accepted.

“What I realized after being accepted is everything that I was looking for in school falls under communications. It’s all really valuable information to the things that I value, which is people. I love people. I like to talk to people, to communicate better and understand our interactions.”

And with these skills, Karidia plans to make a difference. Her own life experiences and love for others have left her more than ready to take the next steps toward where she wants to go.

“My vision to impact the community is by elevating myself, to become a prominent figure and simply connect with other people.”

Kiridia smiling with her two sons.
By paving her journey through education, Karidia shows her sons the power of believing in yourself and never giving up. In return, they’ve given her something even greater: the courage to start a new chapter. “My kids, they’ve pushed me to go harder, and they put life into perspective for me. They motivated me to give them a better lifestyle.”

By sharing other people’s stories, Karidia hopes to create a sense of understanding among different people.

“I want to tell more people’s stories, and I think it can start in our community. The more stories we tell, the more connection we build.”

Karidia’s power to connect comes from the countless stories she’s lived in her own lifetime—the greatest story of all being her children. In the balancing act of life, they remain dead center, sometimes teaching her as much as she teaches them.

“The accountability from my kids allowed me to change the trajectory of my educational experience. I’ve become motivated to apply myself, organize my life, [and] sacrifice an amount of time so that I can have a fruitful life after school.”

To reach that fruitful life, Karidia will continue to make the most of her education and her time. Whether it’s her children watching her provide for them, her classmates awed by her infectious positivity, or just someone lucky enough to hear her story, the people in her life drive her to continue dreaming big. She has many goals, but they all boil down to one thing.

“I think it’s simply inspiration. I want people to be inspired.”