South LA largely consists of minorities who are among the poorest in the county. To most, the degree of socioeconomic depravity would be the perfect excuse not to exceed in life, but not for Dr. Kanika White. Dr. White grew up in Compton and was by all accounts a statistic waiting to happen. She was Black, female and displaced in the foster care system. But..."the village did it's job," she says and that made all of the difference in her life. She graduated at the top of her senior class at Centenniel High School, in Compton and went on to complete her doctoral studies at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA. Talk about beating the odds!
Dr. White is now the Principal of Lincoln Drew Elementary School, in Compton--a place where morale was once low and expectations even less. Even though she no longer lives in the area, Dr. White has always been burdened with the desire to, "turn negatives into positives," which is what she focused her dissertation on. So returning to her roots to invest in the lives of the young was a no brainer. But because the climate of the school was foundationally built upon, "I can't," and "they're never gon," it was going to take a creative approach to a new staff of foreigners to tear down the walls of the pessimistic. With her sleeves rolled up, Dr. White used her very own life--every scrape and bruise--to reach the deep trenches of doubt. Her transparency to her staff, students, parents and guardians about her personal upbringing--a birth mother who was an abuser of drugs and alcohol, an early transition into the database of the Department of Children and Family Services with adoption as the final outcome, marriage, divorced and now single mother--dramatically changed the temperament of the entire school community. Dr. White's admission of imperfections and learning curves, was the perfect antecdote for her schools esteem. Her story gave students permission to be okay with transtional housing and not feel alienated because their upbringings were slightly different than the norm. She disarmed the body of staff members that sat before her and made them comfortable wishing for hope in the future of their students.
Dr. White attributes a large portion of her determination to give back to inner-city kids to her first grade teacher, Mrs. Collins (now deceased). "Although she knew of my family situation, she never let me use that as an excuse to not do well. She demanded of us...would even use the ruler to discipline. Some of the students thought she was mean, but I thought she was amazing. I believe she is the reason I am who I am til this day."