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Once homeless, she's about to get her college degree.

Nikishea Wright, who goes by Nikki, is the Student Support Advisor with Women on the Way at St. Petersburg College. Once homeless, she graduates on Saturday. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published May 18

ST. PETERSBURG — Nikishea Wright once lived in her 1992 Buick Century. She slept in church parking lots and bathed her then-3-year-old son at McDonalds.

Saturday, the 37-year-old is graduating with her bachelor's degree in public policy from St. Petersburg College.

A lot has changed between the time she was homeless and completed her degree. She faced challenges that reinforced her desire to work in a field that helps people. They filled her with the empathy and the ability to help women in the work she does today.

Wright works for Women on the Way at the St. Petersburg Gibbs campus as a full-time student support advisor. She said the program helps single moms, women escaping domestic violence and others looking for guidance to complete college.

"Being homeless gave me that drive early on," she said.

Wright was working in 2005 as a cashier for the health department in Pinellas County and left because she thought she was going to start a new job with higher pay. But she didn't get it. So she slept on friends' floors and spent two weeks in her car.

"It was scary," Wright said. "There were nights where I didn't go to sleep."

When her son got sick with a severe sinus infection, it forced her to make amends with his father, now her husband, so they would have a permanent place to live. She moved in with him in Ocala and worked as a loan processor.

A few years later she decided she wanted to return to school, so she moved back to St. Petersburg and lived with her mother.

"I knew that I didn't want to be stuck in an office setting dealing with paper as a career," Wright said.

She began her bachelor's degree at St. Petersburg College in 2016. She was working, studying and caring for her three boys.

Homework was completed during her lunch breaks. Ten-page case studies kept her up all night. She cried a lot, she said.

She was very lonely at times. While her husband was incredibly supportive, she said she didn't feel like she had people around her who knew exactly what it was like to juggle getting an education, family and work.

So she relied heavily on one of her mentors, Shirley Crumbley, the coordinator of Women on the Way for St. Petersburg College.

Crumbley was there for Wright when in 2017 her nephew, Jamal Leslie, was shot and killed.

Wright was in the middle of a Women on the Way event serving root beer floats when her husband called to tell her the news.

"It was extremely devastating," she said.

Crumbley was there for her when Wright was grieving. She checked in a lot, let her vent and took her out to lunch.

"Death is a part of life," Crumbley reminded her. "You've got other folks to empower and inspire."

Since then and in the time she's known her, Crumbley said Wright has brought passion and compassion while working with her students.

Crumbley remembers a time when a student came in to Wright's office and didn't have any food. Wright walked her to the food bank, helped her pick out food and drove her home so she didn't have to carry it all on the bus.

"She's just a sweetheart, just kind and good hearted, willing to do anything and everything for anybody," Crumbley said.

After graduation, Wright hopes to return to school in a couple of years to get her master's in public policy. But she for now she wants to stay exactly where she is and continue her work with Women on the Way.

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