Thirteen years after she swam for her life with her mother and grandmother on her back, a survivor of Hurricane Katrina is using the obstacles in her life to push her toward success.
Keisha Hale was 12 years old when she first appeared on News4 in 2005, days after the hurricane killed thousands of people and displaced more than a million others from New Orleans.
Now, Hale is an accomplished young woman with a bright smile. She recently earned a Bachelor of Science from Bowie State University.
"I wouldn't say that I've reached the best point in my life; I'm still figuring things out," Hale said. "I'm just excited for the future and I feel like I'm finally in a place where I'll be able to help kids in need."
Achieving success wasn't easy. Adjusting to life after the disaster was a stressful experience, and Hale's family struggled with depression and substance abuse.
Shortly after News4's interview with Hale, her mother was unable to care for her and Hale was sent from one foster home to the next.
It was hard to hope for the best when it felt like she was constantly waiting for the next bad thing to happen, Hale said. At one point, she tried to run away.
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“I [was] at this bus stop, I didn’t want to go home. Thankfully the [bus driver] let me get on the bus and looped around," Hale said. "I remember thinking in that moment that that was it; this was going to be my life forever.”
Despite changing schools several times, Hale graduated from high school and set her sights on college. She credits the various resources that helped her move forward during dark times.
“It might have been rough, but I had a good social worker, I had a good lawyer, and even though I couldn’t see the positivity in myself, they always reminded me of the things I could do,” Hale said. “I think those little messages throughout my journey really helped me keep my head up.”
Even though she made strong connections in college, Hale said she still felt like an outsider while she was there. The situation affected her emotionally and had an impact on her grades.
“I felt like I was trying so hard to overcompensate for what I felt like I was lacking from my peers, like a family and support,” Hale said. “I remember during my orientation I had people ask me, ‘Oh, where’s your mom and your dad?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m here by myself.’”
Hale now holds an administrative position at Creative Associates International, a development organization in the District. She's also working toward a master’s degree in applied sociology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
She hopes her research will improve the lives of children in foster care by spreading a positive message.
“I want to help kids realize that things might suck right now, but they can get so much better. You just have to stay hopeful, you have to stay resilient, you have to find ways to think about what matters to you.”
Hale has never returned to New Orleans since the disaster.
A childhood friend sent her a picture of the street where they used to live. All that was left was a street sign on a corner.