Letisha Banks’ college journey started at Malcolm X College in 2006, shortly after her now 17-year-old daughter was born. While Letisha was passionate about earning her associate degree, life’s obstacles forced her to pause and restart her education several times over the next decade. In 2016, she ended up withdrawing from her courses because she was acquiring debt.

The lifelong Chicagoan had always wanted a career where she could help people, but she needed to figure out a way to help herself first – both with confidence and with getting out of poverty. For years, she had been holding her daughter accountable for her school work, and she knew she needed to do the same.

Just as Letisha was formulating a plan to re-enroll at City Colleges, she discovered Fresh Start, a debt relief program that allows City Colleges students who left in good standing over the last 10 years to return to college, clear their debt, and earn their college credential. She first heard about the program on TV, when it was announced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and then, she received an email from City Colleges letting her know she was eligible for the new opportunity.

To Letisha, Fresh Start offered exactly what it advertised – a clean slate and the chance to finish what she had started nearly 15 years prior.

“The process was straightforward, which made it appealing and easy for me to commit to graduating without the worry of debt,” she said.

This spring, the 41-year-old Chatham resident did just that – graduated with her associate degree in human sciences from Harold Washington College, around the same time her daughter earned her high school diploma from Daniel Hale Williams Prep School. Both are looking to continue their education and earn their bachelor’s degrees in Chicago, where Letisha hopes to explore a career pathway in teaching or social work.

In addition to the debt relief, Letisha said she’s been supported by the credit counseling services provided through Fresh Start, which have helped her increase her credit score and develop essential money management skills. Letisha plans to put those skills, along with her new associate degree, to good use as she looks forward to the next stage of her college journey.

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