By Ann Gill (M.A., ’76)
Portia Cook is a sophomore majoring in journalism and media communication at CSU. She also is a 31-year-old single mother of two who has overcome several generations of familial poverty and addiction to create a path to success and unlimited potential for herself and her children.
Portia was raised by a single mother who worked hard to support her three children but struggled with drug addiction and a lifestyle that “functioned more in a state of crisis than stability.” When she was 12, Portia herself “fell into the same patterns that were so common within my family.” She struggled with anxiety and depression, “lacked self-love, and became addicted to methamphetamine.”
Portia was five years old when she first came to the CSU campus. Because of the issues her mother struggled with, her grandmother, who enrolled in CSU’s journalism program, brought Portia with her when she came to campus, including taking her to classes. This had a profound impact on the little girl, as she recalls thinking to herself, “When I grow up, I will be smart and a journalist, just like my grandma.” She recalls the pride she felt while watching her grandmother, Mirna Miranda (B.S., ’95), graduate.
Despite these high points, Portia’s early life followed the familial pattern that poverty can create. She began using meth at 12 in addition to weed and alcohol, then stopped meth usage for a period of time. From ages 16 to 18, she transitioned to crack cocaine along with weed and alcohol. From 18 to 22, she transitioned back to meth.
She did manage to stay in school and was successful in that safe environment. To help her struggling family, she started working at age 15. But by then, she was a “functioning addict.” She lost the job at age 20 and did not work again for several years. During this period, she was “hopping around from one drug house to another.”
During her early journey, Portia met a man who had just completed a 12-year prison sentence and entered into a relationship that became “abusive, physically, mentally, and emotionally.” Her own addiction “spun out of control.”
However, her true self rose to the fore on the day she learned she was pregnant. Upon looking at the results of the pregnancy test, Portia immediately flushed her remaining drugs down the toilet and broke her pipe. The next two years involved “a struggle to get over cravings and triggers.” She now has been nine years sober.
After her daughter was born, Portia found a job, as the little girl’s father had been sent back to prison. Her daughter will be nine soon, and Portia now has a three-year-old son, as well.
In 2018, she joined Project Self-Sufficiency, which she credits with “helping me return to school with confidence and motivation,” and she enrolled at CSU. When she decided to major in journalism and media communication, her grandmother gave Portia her journalism class ring. Portia recalls, “from those days I was on campus with her as a child, CSU has always held a special place in my heart, as it was a break from all the home chaos.”
These days Portia works at KCSU as a news producer, is sports producer for volleyball, and does audio engineering for news broadcasts. She also is a volunteer DJ. Her class and other activities at CSU are only part of her responsibilities, as she is a single parent who, like others in similar situations, asks herself each morning, “Can I really do this?” when looking at the list of tasks she needs to accomplish that day.
Some members of her family ask her why she does all this. Other than her grandmother, she is the only family member who took steps to break out of the cycle of poverty. She explains: “I am still low economic status, but my children live completely different lives than I lived. They are happy and healthy.” Among her future goals are to “give others the confidence to pursue whatever it is they want to pursue” and “to become a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.”
In what operates as a tribute to both Portia and her grandmother, she was awarded the CSU Alumni Association Legacy Scholarship. Established in 2005, the Legacy Scholarship is funded by proceeds from the Colorado State University license plates program and through direct donations. In her response, Portia writes that the scholarship will give her “the ability to maximize my college experience through internships, service learning, and volunteer opportunities” as well as “giving me a boost in confidence to work hard throughout my college career and towards a better future for myself and my children…. On behalf of myself and my children, thank you.”