Sam and Chari together


Brandeis University, African and Afro-American Studies

In Chari's first year at Brandeis she became heavily involved in work to make campus more hospitable to under-represented students. After authoring numerous demands and spending nearly two weeks occupying the administrative building with a group of fellow-students, Chari earned a seat at the table to negotiate with campus administrators.

Since then, Chari has been elected Undergraduate Representative for the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, starred in an on-campus production and has worked as a TA for upper-level courses. She is also currently completing archival research at the intersection of Music and African American studies.

Read Chari's college essay, which she wrote for her Brandeis application below:

When I was three weeks old, my mother dropped me off at my paternal grandmother’s house and never came back. My biological mother was homeless, in abusive relationships and constantly using drugs. My biological father was never at home for long, always on binges and in and out of jail.

I spend hours daydreaming of where I would be if my paternal grandmother hadn’t adopted me. My imagination doesn’t have to travel far though. I see my alternate reality daily as I watch my 19 year-old sister struggle to raise my niece and nephew and as I witness my younger brother and sister increasingly succumb to the influences of their turbulent surroundings. My mother and biological siblings live across the street from me; each day I see them at school and in our neighborhood. My biological father occasionally spends the night at my house, on his way to and from binges. My family, always nearby, stitched the cloth of who I am, yet they remain so far from the tapestry that I am becoming.

My biological parents and siblings may never step foot on a college campus, write a personal narrative or realize their talents. Through our increasingly divergent experiences though, a flare has been born in me, a drive to go where no one in my family has gone before.

It is clear that my dad’s mother saved my life; she provided my alternate existence. Upon my arrival, my grandmother instantly fell in love with my “big brown eyes” and “thick eyebrows.” She made it her purpose to ensure that I never stepped foot in, or fell prey to, the lifestyle in which my parents, to this day, still indulge.

While trying to find my own purpose, I found myself deluged in music, poetry, knowledge of my ancestors, and books about civil rights. I used those kings and queens as the influence for the new, spiritual family I would collect over time.

I stumbled upon people who have had a significant impact on me. I met my father, Pastor Tommy Conley, who taught me that I could not do anything without God at the helm. Later I gained a brother, Lee, who influenced me to develop a balance between my personal and spiritual lives. From the beginning I had my mother, who charged me to be aware of tradition but not allow it to keep me stagnant.  I also found a sister, Summer, who taught me to keep my head up because true queens never drop their crowns. Most recently I added my teacher, Mr. Aleinikoff, who reminds me daily to get the job done. These people, who hold a special place in my heart, have each made up what I feel my proper “family” is.

When establishing my brand, and who I want to become, I will keep my family in mind. I will use my father’s words to help me prosper through the bad days, the power that my spiritual mother reminds me that I have, the swagger that my sister will not let me live without, the endurance my brother prays I maintain and the work ethic my teacher has helped me to find. Though one may look at my family and see a broad array of religions, skin tones and sizes, I feel that this diversity has made me the empowered person I am today. Though society may look at my life and feel disheartened by my beginnings, I take heed to what I was given, and let it make me stronger. My foundation may have been cracked, but I trust that God will continue to fill in the gaps.

Chari high school portrait
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