For weeks, there has been news on the troubling issues plaguing Washington, D.C.’s largest homeless shelter at the old D.C. General Hospital. It is where more than 300 adults and 500 children live and where 8-year-old Relisha Rudd lived before she was murdered.
But one of those residents, an 18-year-old named Rashema Melson, offers a ray of hope amid the sadness and squalor.
The Anacostia High School senior has a 4.0 GPA and just earned a scholarship to Georgetown University.
“I feel accomplished,” she says. “I feel I did something worthy. I feel like I did it. But I’m not done yet.”
What makes Rashema’s story all the more remarkable is when you consider where she comes from.
For the past two years, Rashema, her mother and two siblings have been living at the D.C. homeless shelter.
“It’s pushing me to be better, to know what I want in life, and to know this is not what I want, but I have to go through it for the moment,” she said.
“She is definitely a success story,” said Dora Taylor, a spokeswoman with the D.C. Department of Human Services. “She definitely is.”
The department oversees the shelter.
“As you can see, she has no complaints,” Taylor said. “Nothing depresses her. Seemingly nothing brings her down. And she has the right attitude. You know, she expressed to you that she’s grateful despite her circumstances.
“And she’s determined that she’s going to do, you know, exactly what she needs to do in life to be self-supportive on her own. So we are extremely proud of Rashema.”
“I think the toughest part is just moving around before we got to the shelter,” said Rashema. “Because it’s been going on for six years.”
Where Rashema has found her footing is in her sports, books and her studies.
“It’s not hard for me because I want it,” she said. “Like when you don’t want it and you’re just doing it because you have to, it’s like a struggle. But I want to be successful and this is what I want. And that’s my goal in life.”
Rashema plans to be a biology major, going pre-med, and wants to be a forensic pathologist. She is inspired by her father’s murder when she was just a baby.
“I just want to know so much about him,” Rashema said. “Growing up not having a dad, as a female, it’s a really tough thing. You have to learn to love yourself.”
“And just because there’s not an older man in your life to be that dad, you have to just get that from your mom. I wish I had a dad. I think about him a lot.”