Shawnna Nichole Press, a 19-year-old pre-social work student from Mascoutah, Ill., is a sole survivor. Venturing to Tallahassee on a whim following her graduation in May 2009, Press planned to attend Chicago State University.
Instead, after an extremely dysfunctional summer with her family, she ended up at Florida A&M University at the suggestion of her birth father, who was staged at Hurlburt Field Air force base, approximately two and a half hours outside Tallahassee. This was a stretch for Press, since she and her father didn’t have a truly close relationship. He was the only one, however, who was willing to help her take a leap of faith. Her father bought the plane ticket and, one week before orientation, Press was in Tallahassee.
Press said her arrival to Tallahassee was frustrating because she was doing everything at the last minute.
“I was wait listed for housing, had no financial aid in order and all of one friend to welcome me,” Press said.
Kwajala Mitchell, a FAMU pre-nursing student and long time friend of Press from Illinois, was the one familiar face Press had to welcome her to FAMU. Mitchell said she and Press had been friends for about nine years after meeting in the summer between third and fourth grade.
“We lived in the same neighborhood so we would just meet up outside to play,” Mitchell said. “I hadn’t seen her in years so I was excited to catch up on old times.”
She had left all she had known back in the Midwest and had no real family support because the family she left behind did not support her decision.
“Adapting to the FAMU environment was a grueling task,” Press said.
She recounts more times than not when she felt alone and in desperate need of an outlet. One night in September, Press and a friend decided to check out a bible study group by the name of Every Nation Campus Ministries (ENCM). It was at ENCM that she discovered her new family.
“ENCM welcomed me with open arms and introduced me to the love of Jesus Christ which I had somewhat forgotten,” Press said. It was also at FAMU that she joined the Gospel Choir.
“My first semester with them was under the direction of Alange Foster and Nate Tanner, but the person I accredit my great experience to the most is Antoinyce Eaton,” Press said. “She is a strong P31 woman on fire for God and really showed me what the gospel choir was all about.”
Press was unable to participate in the choir because of her course load, but she is still an avid supporter of the gospel choir.
Eaton, a third-year professional MBA student at FAMU and former chaplain of the FAMU gospel choir, said she has known Press for a little more than a year now. She and Press have a very good relationship that developed through her serving as chaplain for the choir. Eaton said she had a close bond with many of the gospel choir members, but the one she had with Press always stood out. She describes Press as being motivated and determined to succeed.
“She was always willing to assist in any way she could,” Eaton said. “She was always willing to go that extra mile.”
Press’ past experiences have aided her in her survival in Tallahassee. The last two years of her life have been tumultuous, but she continues to push so she can prove to her family that she is able to succeed on her own.