Graduation at the University of
A Daughter of the PEOPLE
|Marie Nofodji moved to Madison from her native Togo,
West Africa and had to struggle
through the loss of her mother and the impact of sickle
cell disease to achieve her dreams.
it is harder now.”
Nofodji’s family landed in Packers Apartments with its community learning center. Nofodji met Jackie Thomas, the Packers program manager, and the trajectory of
Nofodji’s life changed.
“Jackie Thomas got me involved quickly,” Nofodji recalled. “I didn’t know what I was doing actually. I was just there trying to build bonds, make friends and do
what I was told. From there, I just saw myself participating in more things.”
Within a year, Thomas had Nofodji winning an award at the United Way Community Service Awards ceremony.
“I won a CUNA Mutual Group Community Service Award from United Way,” Nofodji said. “I was about eight-years-old at the time. I had just come to the United States.
I came when I was seven-years-old and two months later, I was going to turn eight. So that was April 2004.”
The award brought Nofodji a lot of attention. She also captured the attention of the people who were beginning to implement the PEOPLE Prep program in the
“I was in third grade,” Nofodji said. “Right when I came, I went to second grade for like two months. And then I was enrolled in PEOPLE Prep and that was it from
there. I had support from PEOPLE Prep, Jackie, the mentors and tutors who came through and my family. I had my sister to look up to. She was doing school work. I
said, ‘That’s what I have to do.’ That community learning center does push you to do things. I don’t think I would have had the motivation to do homework after
school or things of that sort when I came back from school. I probably would have just come home, watched TV or something else that wasn’t educational. But
knowing that I had to go to the center, they were a major prod. ‘Where are you going after school?’ ‘The center.’ Everyone wanted to go to the centers. We had
snacks too. Everyone wanted snacks.”
And PEOPLE Prep gave her a dream.
“The one major thing that PEOPLE did was give me that outlook, that final goal of going to college,” Nofodji said. “I don’t think I would have thought of college that
early at my age. But since they were bringing it up, taking us on campus, we were seeing other mentors and tutors who were already doing what I am doing now.
That’s one of the things that had me going. We also talked about goals. We talked about what we wanted to be. I guess that motivated me along the path. They did
help us with improving academic skills in a way. Some things I couldn’t figure out at home by myself when I was going to do homework. We came from a country
where the math system may be different than the math system here. If I went to my parents and asked, ‘How do I do this?’ Well they aren’t really going to understand
it the way that it is taught. So that was helpful. I just kind of mingled with the American educational system.”
Nofodji was on the path to success.
Next issue: Overcoming life’s obstacles
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
It was by sure luck of the draw that Marie Nofodji graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison
as a PEOPLE Scholar on May 12th with majors in psychology and legal studies and certificates in
French and criminal justice. Her father had entered the visa lottery in Togo, West Africa and he won.
Now it wasn’t a lottery about money. It’s just that immigration quotas for many countries were decided
by a lottery in terms of who could fill the limited slots available. And her father won the lottery.
It is also almost by chance that Nofodji ended up in Madison. It’s just that Nofodji’s uncle lived in
Madison and so his father came and stayed with him to check out Madison and then decided to make
President Donald Trump, in his anti-immigrant rants, has decried the impact of “chain Immigration” in
which immigrants are allowed to petition to have family members join them. But that is how a lot of
famous Euro-Americans have come to this country and it has allowed families to remain intact. That is
how Marie came to America and Madison as well.
“He came first and then he made sure that my mother, my sister, brother and I also came along a
couple of months later,” Nofodji said. “Not everyone can get everyone else here, so there are a lot of
families who are unable to get their children here or their wives here. It can take a while. I am sure that