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HOPE Toledo Promise Scholar addressing youth violence

Mer'Kyah Warren is able to attend Central State University free of cost thanks to the HOPE Toledo Promise program. She is majoring in criminal justice.

TOLEDO, Ohio — Graduating seniors at Scott High School in 2021 were given the opportunity to continue their education at a college, university or trade school at no cost to them, thanks to the HOPE Toledo Promise program.

Mer'Kyah Warren is one of them.

She grew up in the inner city, was used to seeing violence and thought college probably wasn't an option.

"At first when I was going to graduate, I wasn't going to go to school," Warren said. "I was just going to work, but then I got college for free for four years, so I might as well put it to some use."

Warren just finished her sophomore year at Central State University, about 30 minutes east of Dayton, and is majoring in criminal justice.

"It puts families in a situation where they can be in a better financial situation," HOPE Toledo Vice President of Operations, Shawna Woody, said. "They don't have to deal with the debt that comes along with paying for a post-secondary, trade school certification for that type of education."

Recently, she posted a video on TikTok about why she chose her major. The video shows a slideshow of the many youths who have died from gun violence in Toledo. 

She said some of the people in the video are friends and family, and they are the driving force behind her career choice that works to limit the city's violence while helping young people.

"My father passed away at a young age and before I graduated my cousin passed away," Warren said. "After I graduated, I got into an incident. So I was tired of seeing this in the community."

Her grandparents said they are proud of her and are glad she wants to be a role model.

"Young people need some positive role models," her grandmother, Bonnie Smith, said. "We've got so much violence now unfolding in the streets."

Her grandfather, David Smith, agreed.

She maybe saw some of the things she did and god blessed her to come through," he said. "She's just grown up and now she wants to help others."

Warren hopes to come back to Toledo when she's done with school. She doesn't know what she wants to do just yet, but she knows she wants to work with young people.

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