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George Mason University

Social Work Alumna Cordelia Cranshaw: A Remarkable Story of Beating the Odds

March 21, 2019

Cordeila CranshawWhen Cordelia Cranshaw, BSW ’14, graduated from George Mason University in 2014, she garnered a lot of media attention, including a story in USA Today. The reason: She beat the odds. Only 3 percent of young people in foster care go on to graduate college.

Now, more than four years later, she is still getting attention—this time as Miss District of Columbia USA. Cranshaw won the crown in early December and has been doing interviews and making public appearances ever since. In fact, she will be coming back to Mason's campus March 28 for a Career Pathways Alumni Panel for National Professional Social Work Month. 

Cranshaw’s path hasn’t been easy. When she was 12, her mother went to prison, and Cranshaw and her siblings went to live with relatives. She eventually entered the foster care system at age 14. But she realized education was her path to success and making her dreams a reality. Her life goal has been to help other young people see that same opportunity.

After graduation, Cranshaw made plans to become a social worker and start a nonprofit to help at-risk youth. Done and done. Cranshaw completed a master of social work degree at the University of Maryland and now works for Washington, D.C.’s Child and Family Services Agency. Her nonprofit, Acts of Random Kindness (ARK), is growing and recently secured its first grant.

“I like to say that ARK was the bridge in my life in terms of taking my personal knowledge of being in foster care and the professional knowledge I received from Mason,” she says. “That lived experience helps me in terms of working with these children and families. It also helps me be the face of my organization because they can see firsthand that just because you come from trauma or have an incarcerated parent or [have] been homeless doesn't mean that you cannot be successful. Our motto is ‘you’re one resource away from reaching your dreams.’”

For Cranshaw, those resources included a John J. Hughes Social Work Scholarship from Mason, which helped her pay for her undergraduate education.

At ARK, Cranshaw has been running a program called “iCAN” in Washington, D.C.’s Wards 7 and 8 for young males with behavioral challenges living in single parent households. ARK volunteers come to schools twice a week to teach life skills and expose the students to possible career paths and educational opportunities. In 2019, she is starting two new programs, which include coparenting classes.

Now, she is also using her platform as Miss DC USA to reach more children and families—and have an impact her community. “Everyone deserves a chance to be successful. I've been at a place where I really didn't know where life was going to take me, but I use the resources around me and my education to ensure that I had some stability. I really want to share that message of hope with these families.”

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