Alhaja Affinnih: Family and School Mean
Late to Bed, Early To Rise
May 1, 2001--
Alhaja Affinnih starts her day at 5:30 a.m. when she climbs out
of bed to make breakfast for her three children, a niece, a nephew
and her mother. Once the children -- who range in age from 4 to
15 -- leave for school, she rides the bus to morning classes at
the University of Virginia's McIntire
School of Commerce.
the early afternoon, Affinnih works on projects with other McIntire
students, then runs household errands, attends school conferences
or sports activities for her children, and takes her diabetic mother,
Shirley Ashley, to doctor's appointments and the pharmacy.
5 p.m. Affinnih must head home to prepare dinner for her family
and supervise her children's homework and bedtime routines. By 9
p.m. or so, she usually can sit down with her mother to catch up
on the family news and update her endless to-do list.
starts her homework at about 11 p.m. and studies until 2 or 3 a.m.
After a short sleep, a new day begins.
to her strong personal drive and help from family and friends, Affinnih,
27, will graduate this May with a bachelor's degree in commerce,
with a dual concentration in marketing and management information
systems. She entered U.Va. as a third-year student after transferring
from Piedmont Virginia Community College where she earned two associates
degrees -- one in business administration and one in computer information
June, when the childrens school year ends, Affinnih will move
her family to northern Virginia where, on June 25, she begins a
new life and a new job as a software engineer for the telecommunications
company, Verizon Communications, in Arlington.
biggest reward is that my family will be taken care of," Affinnih
said. "I will be able to give my children the quality of life I
had as a child."
road to that bachelor's degree has been uphill, but Affinnih was
determined to make it. At 18, she declined acceptance to George
Mason University after learning she was expecting her first child.
always knew I would come back," Affinnih said. "I knew college was
going to happen for me."
was born in the Bronx to a Nigerian father and an African-American
mother. Her father, Yahya H. Affinnih, a taxi driver and a student,
and her mother, a telephone operator, afforded their family of five
a middle-class living. Affinnih's father later earned a doctorate
in sociology when Affinnih was 13. He is now a professor at New
York University's John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
father sacrificed for his education," Affinnih said. "We all sacrificed
for his education. He and my mother both drilled into me the importance
of an education. They told me that school was the best way to succeed."
family moved to Charlottesville in 1986 for her fathers fellowship
at U.Va.s Carter G. Woodson Institute. After the fellowship
ended, he returned to New York, but Affinnihs mother stayed
with her three children, preferring Charlottesvilles small-town
environment to that of the big city. After graduating from Albemarle
High School, college hovered on Affinnih's horizon, but child rearing
intervened. A year after her son, Nywd Jr., was born, Shaun came
along. At age 20, Affinnih took custody of her niece and nephew
while her older sister worked out personal problems.
the next few years, Affinnih held several jobs, many of which used
her administrative, accounting, and technical skills; few of which
paid enough to comfortably support herself and the five children
she cared for. A painful moment came in 1993 when she had to move
her family into subsidized housing because she couldn't make ends
of the hardest things I've ever done was to move into subsidized
housing," Affinnih said. "I wanted my children to have the same
advantages I had, but I couldn't afford it. We moved out as soon
as we could."
made the most of that situation, speaking out on issues with the
public housing association and serving briefly as a member of the
Charlottesville Housing Redevelopment Board.
realized she needed to pursue a long-term strategy to attain her
goal of attending college, so she created a five-year plan. Two
weeks after her daughter was born, in August 1996, she started class
at PVCC, on schedule.
at PVCC, Affinnih attended class, worked at various outside jobs
-- including creating a searchable database for Fitzgerald &
Associates, a local product-injury law firm -- and tutored other
students in French, accounting, computer applications, mathematics
year, thanks to family financial support and childcare assistance
from her mother, Affinnih stopped working part time to attend school
full time and finish her degree.
her technical experience and classes at McIntire, Affinnih has learned
skills that will serve her well in the business world -- the computer
languages C++, Visual Basic and Java, along with people and managerial
skills. She's kept an eye on business trends and, aware of her
responsibilities, has a Plan B and a Plan C in place: if the economic
slowdown threatens her position at Verizon, she has job applications
in at several federal agencies and an active resume on Monster.com.
all goes well at Verizon, Affinnih wants to take advantage of the
company's educational benefits: Verizon will pay 100 percent of
the cost of relevant graduate studies. She would like to pursue
a master's degree in business administration in the future.
spite of her tight schedule, Affinnih has enjoyed college and looks
forward to beginning her new job. "Life is like a card game," mused
Affinnih, who often plays cards with her family on weekends to relax.
"You don't have to keep the cards you're dealt. It's how you play
that matters. If you give up on a hand, you give up on life. If
you play your cards strategically, you can win."
Charlotte Crystal, (804) 924-6858