By STEVE KAUFMAN
Mechelle Artis has two big posters of the Brooklyn Bridge on the walls of her apartment. Sheâ€™s never been to New York, but she likes the posters because they remind her of Louisvilleâ€™s bridges.
Theyâ€™re cool posters, but theyâ€™re also unintentionally symbolic of Mechelleâ€™s situation. As a junior at the University of Louisville, Mechelle is standing on the entry ramp of a bridge that is going to take her across to the next phase of her life.
Whatâ€™s on the other end of the bridge? Thatâ€™s the existential question every college student faces. But that thereâ€™s even a bridge in Mechelleâ€™s life is what makes her situation special.
Mechelleâ€™s apartment looks like that of a lot of university students: a mix and match of furniture sourced from wherever she could find it; a laptop and a TV set; and a big red and black Cardinal blanket.
But Mechelle and her apartment are different in a couple of respects from other students and their cribs. One, she shares her apartment with her four-year-old son, Leondrick. And two, this isnâ€™t campus housing or something she found on an Internet search.
Mechelle lives at Family Scholar House, at Lee and Fifth Streets, where Old Louisville bumps into UofL. Family Scholar House offers a home and a safe and supportive environment for single parents and their children as long as the parent attends college. And as long as thereâ€™s a vacancy.
Vacancies are critical, since there are more applicants than available units. So Mechelle is one of the lucky ones, having secured one of the 56 prized apartments on the Family Scholar House campus.
But Mechelle is also one of the especially deserving Family Scholar House participants â€“ or, as sheâ€™s often referred to, â€œa rock starâ€ in the program. Sheâ€™s an A and B student with a major in Justice Administration, a minor in Political Science and an intention to go to law school that sheâ€™s had since she was a little girl. Now in her junior year, sheâ€™s about to prepare for her LSATs, the aptitude tests that lead to law school admission.
Itâ€™s a far cry from where she was four years ago. She had Leondrick when she was a junior in high school. And with her mother in Alabama dealing with a drug habit and her father in Tennessee, she and her son were forced to live in the home of Leondrickâ€™s father and grandparents while she finished Western High School. She was a 4.0 student, a cheerleader and part of UPSâ€™s school-to-work program, taking college-level courses at JCTC.
â€œI needed housing stability for myself and my son, and I wanted to pursue a college education, and I had neither,â€ Artis says. â€œI wanted my own home but did not know how to go about that. I didnâ€™t know whatever the next step in the process was or how to take it.â€
Thatâ€™s all in the past for her and Leondrick now. While she attends school, he spends the day at the Early Learning Center, and their evenings are spent together: she doing her homework, he mimicking her on his miniature laptop.
Like most program participants, she has furnished her home with items donated and kept in the Family Scholar House basement. Itâ€™s first come-first served, but sometimes you get lucky.
â€œI had a queen-size mattress and there was a queen-size bed and full bedroom set just waiting for me,â€ she recalls.
General Electric has provided all the appliances for all the units.
Dominating the living room is a bright red couch, appropriate for a University of Louisville student. Elsewhere in the two-bedroom apartment, her home dÃ©cor taste runs to butterflies. Theyâ€™re all over the house, on walls and any other available surfaces. Leondrickâ€™s taste runs to cars, but like most little boys, his room is a pastiche of all kinds of accumulated interests, from sports to plush toys to Mr. Potato Head to characters from the Disney/Pixar movie â€œCars.â€
Having his own room is a blessing Leondrick doesnâ€™t yet understand or appreciate. Previously, he was crammed into one bedroom with his mother and father. Now, he wants to be wherever his mother is.
â€œHe even has his own TV in his room, but he doesnâ€™t watch it,â€ Artis says. â€œHe doesnâ€™t like staying in his room without me.â€
Heâ€™s only beginning to sleep in his room. â€œI told him I wouldnâ€™t get him a big boyâ€™s bed if he wasnâ€™t going to sleep in it, so heâ€™s beginning to,â€ she says. â€œItâ€™s separation â€“ for both of us.â€
Just another bridge to cross.
Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune