In a rap world filled with the likes of Chief Keef, Lil Wayne, Drake and Jeezy, Ill Holiday is not your typical hip hop aficionado. In fact Ill Holiday, better known as Casey Bridgeford, is not your typical anything.
At the age of thirty-one, the married father of four will be a first year student at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. Having earned a 4.0 GPA at IvyTech Community College in Indianapolis, Indiana, Casey is that rare student who has transcended the ranks of a community college to enter the ivory towers of the Ivy League.
Initially, school was a refuge for Casey. A parent struggled with a drug addiction and he often moved from one housing project to another. Transitioning back and forth from home life to school life eventually took its toll and he found himself disinterested in school. According to Casey, he “couldn’t see the connection between school and life.” The only time he encountered anyone with the title Dr. was in the emergency room. If it wasn’t for members of his church who had college degrees, he wouldn’t have known that college was an attainable goal. In his own words, “I didn’t have a firm context of what college was.”
Like many young men growing up in an urban epicenter, Casey gravitated towards a career as a rap artist. After several years in the music industry and running a successful marketing firm that eventually tanked during the 2008 recession, Casey found himself on the cusp of homelessness with limited income, no job prospects and an eviction notice from his landlord.
In the fall of 2010, he decided to return to school to pursue his education. Undaunted by the prospect of starting over, Casey elected to attend a community college to secure the educational foundation that he needed in order to be successful. Little did he know that after years away from the classroom, not only would he excel, but he mastered the coursework and soon earned 50 credit hours.
This initial success became the springboard for him to dream bigger and broader. Yet, Casey’s quest to pursue an Ivy League education and his acceptance is just as unconventional as his avenue to pay for it. Unwilling to saddle his young family with exorbitant debt, he has decided to draw on the strength of his community. Like the rent parties that some of us might remember from episodes of Good Times, his friends, family and community members have gotten together to host an educational party and launch an online campaign to help offset the costs of relocating his family to Philadelphia.
As easy as it is to surmise that Casey’s educational success story is one that others can not obtain, he would caution otherwise. “Young people have to look at the long term effects of their decisions. If they do so, it will become clearer what they need to do and how they need to do it. It is when we focus on short term goals that we make short term decisions. My greatest transition wasn’t shifting from a community college to the Ivy League, it was transitioning my thought process.”
Dr. Tyra Seldon is an independent scholar and freelance writer who is committed to eradicating educational disparities. This article is a part of Your Black World’s Education over Incarceration Project.