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Oakland Technical High School graduate Imahni Cheeks moved into a residence hall at the University of San Francisco last month as an underrepresented college student who wants to one day be a lawyer.

Cheeks, 17, who was born and raised in Oakland, wants to eliminate corruption from within. Her first step will be majoring in sociology and participating in the Black Scholars Program, which will give her a community to interact with daily.

Her mother is from Mexico and her father is Black. Afro-Latino people are not well-represented in higher education, according to Berenice Vega, who worked with Cheeks through Oakland Promise, an organization that helps Oakland students get from the cradle to a career.

That changed just a little when Cheeks received notice that she was accepted into USF, full expenses paid, including any needs such as BART fare, books, and a computer.

Cheeks described herself as a social justice advocate.

“I’ve seen the issues,” Cheeks said of police brutality against Black men and crowded housing in the Hispanic community.

“This needs to change,” she said. “I want to be part of the change.”

A sense of community

Cheeks was accepted into University of California at Berkeley, too, but chose USF because she sensed she will find community there.

She said the decision was hard and she looked for a sign that never came. On the day she chose to accept USF’s offer, she said she probably would have changed her mind 20 times.

“I want to be part of the change,” says USF student Imahni Cheeks, who considers herself a social justice advocate. The Oakland native is majoring in sociology with plans to become a lawyer. (Photo by Harika Maddala/Bay City News)

She is now settled on USF, with the understanding that it isn’t a final decision; she could apply again or transfer.

“I don’t know tomorrow,” Cheeks said, a motto she uses frequently.

What swayed her decision was also the feeling she got from talking with a sociology professor at USF who was excited about working with Cheeks and said she would be there for her along the way.

Cheeks has 10 siblings and described herself as family-oriented. Five siblings live in one U.S. household, one lives in another U.S. household and four live in Mexico, she said.

Her parents are divorced. Besides Oakland, she has lived in Antioch and Vallejo.

Daniel Guzman, former program manager for Latino Student Achievement in the Oakland Unified School District, helped Cheeks with scholarship applications.

She was a pleasure to work with, said Guzman, who described her as a self-starter who takes initiative.

Independent thinking

As far as other personality traits, she’s not afraid to share her own ideas even if they’re not aligned with yours, Guzman said.

He described Cheeks’ personality as “infectious.”

To Vega, college access coordinator with Oakland Promise, Cheeks is mature and very outspoken.

“She’s really like a model student,” Vega said.

The two met at a youth leadership meeting that Guzman held.

Cheeks knew, according to Vega, that college was going to be a way out of a low-income upbringing.

“I definitely wanted to make sure she didn’t fall through the cracks,” Vega said of Cheeks.