Early on, Fareed Nassor Hayat was put on a life path that seemed destined to bypass any hope of a higher education.
Abandoned to foster care at 3 by his crack-addicted mother, Hayat was raised by his grandmother in a "family" of assorted relatives; he was devastated at 15 when she died in a car accident. His 21-year-old sister was forced to move back home to South Los Angeles to take over the household of six children.
At Washington High School, Hayat was an uninspired student, satisfied with easy A's. While his grades got him into a few colleges, his abysmal SAT scores nearly kept him out of UCLA. The tale would have ended there, he said, if it hadn't been for affirmative action. "UCLA had every right to deny me admission," he said. But the university gave him one chance to attend if he did well in the summer transition program for incoming freshmen. "I knew I had to prove myself," he said, smiling. "I scored two A's."
Hayat has been proving himself ever since, with the help of the Academic Advancement Program. "I believe whatever environment you find yourself in, you will rise to the occasion," he said confidently.
He found his creative "voice" in playwriting, weaving together themes and characters out of his own milieu and African-American history. Hayat's plays have been enjoyed by audiences on and off campus, including the University of the West Indies in Barbados where he studied for a semester. He also volunteers at two public housing projects working with youths. With a 3.5 G.P.A., Hayat became the first in his entire family tree to graduate from college.
While he is involved in two stage productions and has dreams of graduate school, his most important job now is to rescue a teenage brother and sister, both high school drop-outs.
He wants to teach at Westchester High School, move them into a different environment and take charge of their upbringing. "My sister did it for me when she was 21. Now I'm 21. I can't help my community without first taking care of my own family."