DAKOTAH BLUE RICE
In his speech at graduation, Dakotah Blue Rice told peers that their Georgia charter school had “defied the odds.”
But Dakotah could have given another speech. How he defied the odds and earned a full ride to Brown University, his top-choice college, through QuestBridge. “I was elated beyond belief,” he recalls feeling when he found out he’d been awarded a College Match scholarship. “I was also very surprised that I was selected for a scholarship at such a prestigious university.”
Dakotah, a debate team captain who wants to pursue a career in corporate finance before working in politics, wasn’t always this confident about his future.
When he was three, Dakotah witnessed the sudden death of his Cherokee father. “My father died of a heart attack right in front of me.” Then, when Dakotah’s grandmother became ill, his mother, a nurse, moved to Pittsburgh to care for her, leaving Dakotah behind with extended family. “It made me more independent,” he said.
Other roadblocks came along. Students in Huntsville, Alabama, where he lived before moving to Georgia, taunted him about his weight. “Being a teen and overweight in middle school… I didn’t fit in too much. I was kind of ostracized.” When Dakotah, who is half Native American and half black, came out as gay, things only worsened. “I’m gay and I came out to my mom. There’s a huge stigma in the Native American and black community. I went through a period of depression.”
Searching for help, Dakotah decided to write to the Tyra Banks talk show about his situation. He landed a spot on a special edition of her show featuring the struggles of overweight teens. When producers from the Tyra show praised Dakotah’s speaking abilities, he became more interested in public speaking and joined the debate team at his school.
While the television appearance boosted his confidence, Dakotah said that he would shake uncontrollably during his debate speeches at school. He eventually became more confident, however, which “led to this whole shift. I stood taller,” he said. Since then, Dakotah has won four state debate tournaments and has gone on to earn sixth place in the nation at the Lincoln Douglas debate. Now he uses his speaking abilities to lobby for educational reform and mentor other low-income students in his community. As an intern for his county’s school system, Dakotah gave speeches before house committees, established a freshmen mentoring program, argued for the elimination of the class ranking system, and created a free tutoring service for local students. Dakotah is the first in his immediate family to go to college. After finishing his undergraduate degree, he plans to participate in the Teach for America program and then pursue a JD/MBA. His ultimate goal is to run for a national-level political office so that he can revamp the education system.
While working hard at Brown University, Dakotah said he’ll still make sure to carve out time for fun, like watching his favorite TV series “Real Housewives.” And of course, meeting his fellow Quest Scholars.
Interviewed July, 2012