Business management junior Mona Dixon moved to Tempe from San Diego when she was 10 years old. Up until then, Dixon had never had a home. Now, she has been nominated as one of Glamour’s Top 10 College Women of 2013.
“In California, I remember going behind dumpsters and pulling out cardboard boxes because that would be our bed for the night,” she said. “I remember pulling out my Ziploc bag of books I got from school.”
Dixon, who wants to become a purchasing manager and a motivational speaker after she graduates, said she always knew she wanted to attend college.
“Ever since I was a young girl, I took school very seriously,” she said. “(In) high school, I graduated third in my class. … I knew college was going to be my way to avoid being in the same circumstance my mom was in.”
Going to school every day was not easy for Dixon. She had to miss classes frequently.
“My mom obviously couldn’t afford transportation passes,” she said. “Me and my sister would have to trolley-hop … We’d have to hop from one to the other to try to avoid getting a ticket.”
Reading was always a safe haven for Dixon.
She used to imagine herself as a character so she could feel safe in her surroundings, she said.
“Being homeless is hard, but going to school as a homeless child was even harder,” she said. “How was I expected to think about a hard math problem … when I had to think about where I was going to eat or where I was going to sleep?”
The teachers at her primary school were all aware of her situation and were not always sympathetic, Dixon said.
Teachers stayed silent when Dixon shared her dream of becoming an actress or a professional basketball player, she said.
“I could see doubt in their eyes, like, ‘How could you possibly do that?’” she said.
Dixon’s mother, who is originally from Tucson, decided to move the family to Arizona when Dixon was 10 years old.
They stayed at the UMOM New Day Centers in Phoenix. It was the first time Dixon, her brother and her sister had a constant roof over their heads.
“It brought a lot of stability,” she said. “From there, my mom was able to get on (Section 8) housing in the city of Tempe.”
Section 8 is a federally-funded rent assistance program for low-income households.
Dixon attended Gililland Middle School and Tempe High School.
While in high school, Dixon played on the girls’ basketball team and became very close with her coach, David Morton, and his wife.
Morton said it was incredible to see Dixon grow up over those four years.
“If you didn’t know the story about Mona, you never would have guessed it,” he said. “She never presented herself as, ‘Feel sorry for me.’”
Dixon got along with all her teammates and teachers, Morton said.
“Being with her was a positive experience for everybody,” he said.
Dixon visits her high school regularly and sometimes practices with the new team, Morton said.
She will have a bright future, he said.
“I can see her being an advocate in some professional area where she’s working for minorities, but in a very high level,” he said. “She is so dedicated.”
Dixon didn’t share her past until she was a senior in high school.
“I was embarrassed about it, because I knew I was different from the quote unquote ‘normal’ people,” she said. “But now, I use that story … to try to inspire other people in similar situations to do great (and) let them know they have potential and everything is possible.”
Dixon was featured in the October 2011 edition of Essence Magazine as one of 28 most influential African-American women.
A year before, she won the Boys and Girls Club of America’s Youth of the Year award.
“Once I did that, I started realizing I love speaking,” she said.
Dixon traveled to the White House and met President Barack Obama after receiving her award.
“He told me that I inspire him,” she said. “To hear that I inspire somebody who inspires so many people was really big for me.”
Her experience with the Boys and Girls Club of America began at 14 years old when she started volunteering. She was later hired as junior staff.
“I had to grow up,” she said. “At a young age, I had a life full of adult responsibilities.”
Dixon is not part of the organization anymore, but she still encourages young people to go to college as an outreach ambassador at ASU.
Dixon’s relationship with her family is very good.
“I love making (my mom) happy because it shows her that she did a good job,” she said. “I came out really well from that background and those circumstances.”
Her mother, Wakonda Dixon, said she feels proud of all the things her daughter has accomplished.
“She has always been very secure, very smart and well respected,” she said. “I am so excited for her.”
Life was difficult while Dixon and her siblings were growing up, Wakonda said.
“It was very hard,” she said. “I am a single mother. Living on the street, staying in shelters, it wasn’t easy.”
Dixon said she tries to be humble about her accomplishments.
“I don’t do it to be thanked,” she said. “I just do it to try to help people. You may not have to go through homelessness, but everyone will come across their own obstacles.”
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