Natasha (name changed) won the WG Foundation High School Screenwriting grand prize $1000 scholarship in 2009. Natasha wrote a 15-page screenplay called, Love Hopeful, which depicted her life as the youngest of six children living in a crack house. She shared a bed in the living room with her cousin and cousin’s boyfriend. A sheet separated the bed from the kitchen. She could barely sleep at night because her mom usually had friends over. “I’m sure they were smoking crack,” her character says in the screenplay, “because it didn’t smell like pot, what my friends smoked.”

When I met Natasha at Crenshaw High School she had a horrible self-image. She dressed in baggy jeans and sweatshirts and kept her hair in her face. She looked sad. She said she wasn’t pretty like the other girls. She told me she wanted to write a story about a girl who fantasized about a boy she had a crush on. The girl’s fantasy helped to drown out the reality of her life. She turned in the first couple of pages and they were beautifully written and convincingly real, and tragic. I told her how impressed I was with them. She kind of smiled at the compliment. The next two days she didn’t turn in anything else. I asked her why. She thought her story wasn’t any good. I told her that wasn’t true, that she was a very talented writer and her story was quite poetic. She looked away and said, “Yeah, I bet you tell all the kids that.” I said, “No, I don’t, I think you really have something special here.” I asked her to tell me more.

She went on to describe in detail the story she had worked out in her head. I told her I thought it was pretty great. Then I said, “I promise to help you with your writing if you promise to keep writing.” After a couple of moments, she turned and looked me in the eye. She said, “I promise to keep writing if you promise to help me.”

Over the next couple of days Natasha worked diligently on her script alongside the other students in the classroom. I spent my time walking round the classroom answering questions and reading the kids’ work. I always stopped at Natasha’s desk and sat with her, reviewing her pages.

On the day the scripts were due, Natasha ran up to me and handed me about 20 hand-written pages. She was flustered and told me she had to jump on a bus and go to an away basketball game and had to miss class, but she had finished her screenplay and wanted me to see it. She had a big grin on her face.

I picked Natasha’s script for a reading by SAG actors to an audience of her peers. She was very brave, as her script exposed her living situation and her schoolgirl crush, but if she was embarrassed, she didn’t show it. She was proud. Natasha went on to win the WG Foundation competition, competing with all the other scripts from schools all over Los Angeles.

A year later I walked into the same classroom at Crenshaw High School and one of the first people I saw was Natasha, now a bright eyed, confident senior wearing a colorful print top, a cute hoodie and some ballet flats with jeans. Her hair was pulled back into a bun. We hugged and I asked her how she was. I was thrilled to see her. She said she was going to be my Service Provider during the class, which meant she’d be my teaching assistant. She told me about her pending college applications, to South Florida State, Tuskegee, Lavern and a couple of other southern colleges. I asked her how things were going at home and she said “a lot better now that I’m living with my dad. At least he doesn’t beat me.”

I got a call from Natasha last fall. She was bubbly and had lots to tell me. “You’re not going to believe this,” she went on to say. “The boy in my script, the one who the character had a crush on, well he’s here at Tuskegee with me.” She said she’d been awarded a full scholarship to Tuskegee University. At first she was worried that she wouldn’t be able to go because the dorm required a $500 cash deposit and she didn’t have it. But she did have the $1000 from the WGF award. She used the WGF money for the deposit and to buy her plane ticket to Alabama. She went on to tell me what the dorm was like and how different the food was in the South, how she was trying to make friends. But she went back to the boy in the script and like her character who in the last scene became brave enough to talk to her crush, Natasha told me, “I haven’t talked to him yet, but I will. I will.”

She’s since signed up for ROTC and plans to join the Navy, which will pay for her full tuition. She’s already talking about graduate school. She wants to be a psychologist.

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