In our continuing series Tampa Prep Alumni Spotlight: Celebrating Black History Month, we spoke with impressive overachiever Erykah Tharpe, a 2016 Tampa Prep Alum. And, in that short time, she not only graduated from Florida State University with a Bachelor’s in Social Work and Criminology, but also got her Master’s in Social Work with a concentration in Law from FAMU and is currently working as a Program Manager for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Big Bend in Tallahassee.
TP: Hi Erykah, how are you?
ET: “I’m great, thanks! I’ve got an interview tomorrow, for a job in Tampa and I’m excited – I’m really hoping that I get to come back home soon.”
TP: That’s great – Congratulations! Speaking of Tampa, can you tell us a little about the time you spent at Tampa Prep?
ET: “I transferred to Tampa Prep at the end of my freshman year, from a public school. My mom really wanted me to be in a different environment where I could be surrounded by people who were on a better path and who wanted a positive future, like me. I was resistant at first, because I didn’t want to leave my friends. But, on the plus, side my mom had to buy me an iPad so that was a big bonus! (laughter)
I’m not gonna lie – it was hard at first. There weren’t a lot of other African American students then so the environment was very different than what I was used to – not a lot of the other kids looked like me. I had a poor attitude and I didn’t do well, academically or socially, at first.”
TP: Did you have a turning point?
ET: “It just took me a little while to get adjusted. Once I started playing basketball and became captain, I came out of my shell and made really good friends that I’m still connected to, today. Everybody was very welcoming – it just took me a little time to be receptive to it.”
TP: Do you have any specific memories from your days at Tampa Prep?
ET: “The Headmasters’ Challenge was always my favorite! The teachers always went out of their way to be helpful. Mr. Bradshaw and Ms. Keller were especially great to me. Ms. Keller used to get on me all the time! And, Mr. Carlson was my advisor – I couldn’t get away with anything with Mr. Carlson! (laughter). The College Counseling office at Tampa Prep was a huge help to me – I still keep in touch with my college counselor. Also, just the friendships that I made there that are still so important to me.”
TP: Tell us about what you’ve been doing since high school graduation.
ET: “I went to Florida State after graduation. I got my Bachelor’s in Social Work and Criminology. Then, went to FAMU and got my Master’s in Social Work with a concentration in Law. Right now I’m working as a Program Supervisor with Big Brothers Big Sisters and I oversee seven counties, helping to find mentors for at-risk children. And I’m also in the process of getting my license in clinical social work for mental health.”
TP: What about your future?
ET: “The dream goal is to go into the FBI, focusing on investigations for missing children. I also want to continue to counsel students and parents – I want to help others the same way that I was helped. It’s all about coming full-circle. I also want to start a non-profit for at-risk teenagers and continue to pay it forward. I currently have a blog about social work – you can find me at https://thejourneee.wixsite.com/my-site and on Instagram @thejourn.e”
TP: Congratulations on all of your amazing success! Anything else you’d like to share?
ET: “Just that I would not have been able to navigate Florida State the way that I did, without Tampa Prep. The workload at Tampa Prep was intense and you had to have accountability. You had to know what you were talking about in class – you couldn’t fake it and ‘just get by.’ I mean, I was never one to study and now I just finished my Master’s Degree! Coming from Tampa Prep and the workload that we had, I kind of felt like college was a breeze. (laughter) My classes really helped me to push myself to succeed. And, when I needed help, the teachers were always there to help me. When I look back and see how far I’ve come, I definitely feel proud.
If it wasn’t for the education that I had and the teachers at Prep in my life, I don’t know where I would be.”