Kelly grew up in South Los Angeles where gang violence was a regular part of life. Her older sister was consistently involved in gangs and it forced Kelly to witness a lot of violence at a young age. Her parents decided to move the family to Mexico to keep their daughters away from the unwavering influence of gangs.
Kelly never felt quite at home in Mexico and begged her parents to go back to L.A. so she could continue her studies. She always knew she could get a better education in the U.S. Her parents finally agreed to let her return, but it wasn't at all how she'd imagined it.
Back in L.A., Kelly stayed with relatives but they didn't have the means to give her a stable home life. Her bed was a blanket in the corner of a room, and she wasn't allowed to turn on the lights after dark, so she studied by flashlight every night.
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With the world seemingly against her, it might've been easy for Kelly to give up. She admits she was mad about the hand she was dealt, but somehow kept telling herself it would get better. "At first, I was just angry and upset that I had to go through that, and I thought, at that moment, 'You're going to be in college and it's going to be better for you," Kelly says.
Thankfully all that hard work has paid off. Not only is Kelly 2nd in her class, she is also the recipient of the Gates Millennium Scholarship, which means she will have her undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral education completely paid for. She's currently deciding between attending U.C. Berkeley or Wesleyan in the fall.
Kelly is also very active in extracurricular activities like ROTC, leadership council and the prom committee. This year she was chosen to participate in TLC's Say Yes to the Prom, a program that selects young women in need and gives them a very special prom night. They get to go shopping for the perfect dress and accessories, and their hair and makeup are done by professionals before the big event. The goal of Say Yes to the Prom is to help young women build the self-confidence they need to continue doing great things in the world.
Thinking about her future is what always inspired Kelly to keep going, even when she felt like giving up. Her parents, and especially her grandfather, always encouraged her to do well in school. Of her grandfather she says, "I just want to make him proud and show him that I made it, once I become someone."
Be sure to watch the televised special, Say Yes To The Prom, for even more inspiring stories, this Friday, May 20th at 9:30 p.m./8:30 central on TLC.
-- Molly Fosco