Chelesa Fearce on Overcoming Homelessness and Pursuing Higher Education

By Martha Delgado 

Chelesa Fearce first gained national attention when her story as a homeless youth was covered in multiple media outlets, such as The Huffington Post, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, and 11Alive News among others. “I’m still amazed by the story being shared on so many platforms,” Fearce commented.

Throughout Fearce’s high school career, her family experienced homelessness, which varied from spending nights in her mother’s car to staying in motels. However, Fearce’s situation did not deter her from pursuing an education. In an article for Newsone, Fearce described even studying by the stove light in an extended-stay motel. 

Her hard work paid off when Fearce graduated valedictorian from Charles R. Drew High School in Riverdale, Georgia, with a 4.6 GPA. “It really helped show my resilience when I applied for college and medical school,” Fearce said about her experience in an interview with Dayton Daily News.

On graduation day, during her address as valedictorian, Fearce told her peers for the first time that she was homeless. As suggested by the school district’s homeless liaison, Fearce first shared her story in a newspaper a week before her graduation, yet she waited until graduation to directly address her class about it.

After announcing her homeless status, Fearce received a full scholarship to Spelman College in Atlanta where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum in 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry. Becoming a member of Phi Beta Kappa was a goal for Fearce since starting at Spelman because of the hard work and high achievement it represented.

“I’m grateful to Spelman College for having a Phi Beta Kappa chapter,” Fearce commented. Through Phi Beta Kappa, Fearce’s interest in disciplines outside of her major has grown. “I just became more interested in the humanities such as history and philosophy,” Fearce recalled. “My undergrad was mostly chemistry, but in hindsight, I have recognized the importance of the liberal arts and subjects outside of science.” 

Fearce’s journey was not over after completing her bachelor’s degree. A dream she had for a long time was to attend medical school. After working for two years in the National Institutes of Health completing research for neurological and psychiatric disorders, she applied to the Yale School of Medicine and was awarded a full scholarship from the school. 

Currently, Fearce is completing her first year at Yale’s medical school studying for a doctorate and medical degree in either chemistry or neuroscience. A reason she chose to pursue her studies at Yale was for their curriculum, which covers the history of medicine as well as building critical thinking skills.

Fearce’s long-term objective is to work in psychiatry, possibly in child psychiatry, as a way to give back to the homeless community and help those who suffer from mental illness. “I have members in my family who suffered, so I want to help,” she explained.

Fearce encourages others who are facing hard times to think about the future and use that as motivation. “Remember that you can always get through something even when it feels like there is no way out of it,” she said. 

Martha Delgado earned her bachelor’s degree in creative writing from UC Riverside, where she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in May 2019. UC Riverside is home to the Iota of California chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.