After attending eight elementary schools, three high schools and moving in with various relatives, MSU alumnus Rayshawn Holbrook had a turbulent childhood.
“That made me always want to have a big family when I became an adult because my childhood was a struggle,” Rayshawn said.
After qualifying for the Tuition Incentive Program — a program that helps underserved communities by encouraging families to send their children to colleges within the state — the choice to study at MSU wasn’t a difficult decision for Rayshawn, then in middle school.
For Rayshawn, raising a big family was more important than receiving his degree, but the degree was the pathway to begin a successful future for his children.
“I put a lot of effort and sacrifices into making that happen so that I could make sure that I provided for the family that I was building to the best of my abilities,” Rayshawn said. “And to make sure that what I was able to offer them was so much more, so much greater, than what was able to be offered to me.”
By his junior year, Rayshawn was a student parent to six children. In 2004, his daughter Shawnie Holbrook was born. She is now a kinesiology freshman on full scholarship at MSU.
“It was definitely a no-brainer for sure,” Shawnie said. “My dad is the reason I’m here. If my dad didn’t show me what this school was about, I would’ve never been here.”
For Rayshawn, it’s a dream to share his alma mater with his daughter and break the cycle from his childhood.
“What a great feeling as a Spartan ... to produce green blood, not just to have green blood,” Rayshawn said. “It makes me incredibly proud as a Spartan, as a father; I mean it’s the ultimate reward for your offspring, to be able to witness them spread their wings and be able to fly.”
From the day that she was born, Shawnie was bleeding green and white, dressed in her first outfit with an MSU football jersey and helmet.
As Rayshawn frequently brought his kids to MSU’s women’s basketball and volleyball games, Shawnie was inspired by the women's empowerment in sports games and chose to study kinesiology here.
“I’m very appreciative that my dad did everything he did and sacrificed everything,” Shawnie said. “Sometimes as a kid, we wouldn’t understand why is Dad always at the library. Why is he always gone? Why do we always have to be sitting in The Union? … Now that I’m older and see his success, everything that he did was to make sure that we had everything that we needed.”
Throughout college, Rayshawn made sure to surround himself with other student parents through Student Parents on a Mission: an MSU student organization that provided resources and brought student parents together.
“In that space, I was the same thing as everyone else, and it was natural, normal and OK,” Rayshawn said. “It wasn’t irresponsible or looked down upon at all.”
Even his friends that weren’t student parents were people that respected Rayshawn's situation and looked up to him for how he was handling school while also taking care of his family.
According to MSU’s Fall Semester 2021 Enrollment Report, 6.92% of MSU’s total enrollment identifies as African American or Black.
“In full honesty when I walk around the campus I don’t see a lot of people that look like me,” Shawnie said. “So in a way it still kind of feels as if, obviously this is a predominantly white institution, but it’s still in a way kind of feels like we don’t have that many Black students, so we all try to cling together and work together to make things happen. I would say still that the representation here isn’t as much as I’d like to see for Black students.”
In The State News article “Students beat racial statistics,” published in 2005, Rayshawn spoke on the struggles of graduating from college as a Black student during his junior year studying computer science.
From 1989 to 2005, there was a 22% increase in MSU’s Black students' graduation rate, however, it was still lower than white students, according to the article.
“A lot of students may think that there’s some reason why they can’t finish school,” Rayshawn said in the article. “You just have to figure out how.”
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Going through the hardships as a Black student parent, Rayshawn hopes that he and Shawnie can give others the courage to challenge themselves in leading their life how they want.
“Her being here is proof that whatever sacrifices, whatever hardships, whatever work I put in was successful,” Rayshawn said. “This is the new normal. The rest of the family looks at this as just what you’re supposed to do. This is the right way to go … and leading the charge towards something different and better. It’s not the only way, but it’s a better way and it … opens others' minds to different ways of going about life.”
Now recently accepted a position as a senior software engineer at Apple, Rayshawn encourages other students to build their network at MSU and “find your village.”
“It takes a village to be successful at whatever you’re doing and where you’re working to accomplish,” Rayshawn Holbrook said. “Find the synergies in other people and networks. Find the people that create the energy within you to do whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish… You have everything you need within yourselves as a community. You have everything you need to do whatever it is that you want to do. Find it and project it.”
Shawnie also hopes that other Black students can feel proud of themselves for working up all the way to MSU.
“Obviously it’s a big deal for anyone to go to college, but as a Black student at Michigan State that’s like a huge thing,” Shawnie Holbrook said. “All Black students should feel accomplished just being here — just because of the things we go through and the past that MSU has — this is a huge milestone for us to be on this campus and make a difference.”
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