Samantha Jordan is an alumna of Illinois Humanities’ Odyssey Project/Proyecto Odisea, a free college-credited humanities program for income-eligible adults who have had limited access to higher education. If you are inspired by Samantha’s story, consider learning more about Odyssey/Odisea. Applications are now open for the 2023-2024 Academic Year. Apply by June 15th.
Samantha Jordan found Illinois Humanities’ Odyssey Project, in the midst of a personal reckoning. The pandemic shutdown had recently upended her family’s life, and their usual routines—school, work, and live performance, which was critical to Samantha’s art as a hip-hop musician—were stripped away.
Samantha decided to use the sudden change to pursue new goals, working to connect with community organizations in her neighborhood of Austin and signing up for Odyssey as a first step toward going back to school. By 2022, she had won a $1.5 million grant to renovate a local park, started recording a new EP, founded a new open mic series on the North Side, changed careers to advocate for housing justice, graduated from the Odyssey Project, and begun filming a documentary about her journey. (Check out this Chicago Reader profile of Samantha featuring her community work.)
“Looking back, I definitely think it was too much at once,” she laughs, but she was grateful that her Odyssey professors encouraged the all-remote class to participate in whatever way made them most comfortable. “I remember Michael, one of the instructors, was like, ‘There’s days when you’re not going to feel like showing up, but once you do, I promise you you’ll be glad.’ That was absolutely true. I just loved that everybody was just like me, tired of just work, work, work…trying to get back to humanity. No pun intended.”
Samantha says her experience in Odyssey gave her the confidence to pursue higher education. The supportive, noncompetitive atmosphere helped foster a sense of belonging and personal connection that she worried would be missing in a traditional lecture hall filled with hundreds of people.
“I think I was kind of scared of a college experience. It just seemed like it was so easy to get lost. [In the Odyssey Project], every instructor just wants you to be the best YOU can be, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. That really helped me. I feel like if I would have just tried to jump back into school [without Odyssey], I probably wouldn’t have made it.”
Her classes also sparked an interest in new forms of creative expression, like short stories. She considers the Odyssey model revolutionary, as a firm believer that revolution takes many forms: “It’s not just yelling and screaming. It’s giving yourself the freedom to look at a painting and express what it makes you feel…it’s taking back your time so you can write your short story and express yourself creatively. Because that’s part of being here, is showing your point of view.”
In fact, Samantha, whose stage name is FURY, is calling her upcoming music and documentary project “FURY Revolution.” As she prepares for what’s next—spearheading the park renovation, completing another semester of classes, and preparing to go on tour—she is glad that her eleven-year-old daughter will be along for the ride. (You can follow Samantha’s music at www.furyhiphop.com and support her project on Patreon at www.patreon.com/furyhiphop.)
“I want her to see you can change everything around you,” says Samantha, who credits Odyssey with helping her learn how to advocate for a better world. “That’s another reason it was important for me to go back to school. It’s important to me for her to see all these things, because you can make a difference. I can’t wait to see what she’s going to do with her friends one day, because if I think I’m a star, she’s a super-mega-star in the making. I just love that she gets front row seats.”
Applications are now open for the 2023-2024 Academic Year. Submit your application to Odyssey Project/Proyecto Odisea by June 15th. Learn more about the Odyssey Project
Featured Image: Revolution by FURY album cover