Through it all, mother of four graduates from Jackson State University following the tragic death of her 6-year-old son

(JACKSON, Miss.) — Kyoukius Washington received her bachelor’s degree in social work from Jackson State University this morning, April 30. It is a moment that could have easily not been and perhaps no one would have blamed her for giving up.

In February, Washington’s 6-year-old son, Oterious Marks, was tragically killed in a drive-by shooting while playing in a public park in McComb. 

“I’m upset. I’m hurt. I’m distraught. I’m losing my mind,” Washington told the Clarion Ledger soon after the incident. “I’m sad, extremely sad. My heart is broken. … My baby is dead.”

Mark’s sudden death momentarily propelled Washington into a place of despair and discouragement. The devastating news also shook her classmates, faculty and staff. The JSU Latasha Norman Center for Counseling Services provided grief counselors who spoke to the School of Social Work’s graduating class to help students assess their feelings.

Being a grieving single mother of four, pursuing a degree was challenging for Washington, but she told herself, “God said, it’s your time now. I didn’t give up on you.” 

Washington’s professors recalled the perseverance and courage she displayed, despite her suffering. “She was very serious about learning and her academics even before her son’s death. Her tenacity and persistence to graduate, after the tragedy, is the epitome of strength,” said Trenia Allen, Ed.D., LCSW.

Jaqueline Loggins, DSW, LSCW, described Washington as an intelligent, outspoken, confident and unwavering student, who was determined to succeed in her studies, refusing to be deterred by the heinous act of gun violence visited upon her family.

“Her personal strength during this difficult time in her life was as impressive as her intellectual accomplishments. She earned A’s in her last two social work courses while completing a 340-hour internship, boasting a 3.5 GPA. And, I place emphasis on the word earned,” said Loggins.

While pursuing her studies, Washington joined the JSU Student Social Work Association, where she participated in fundraisers for the Jackson area community. She is also a member of the Tau Sigma National Honor Society, an organization for transfer students with high-performing achievements. Washington said she is more confident about her future after attending the HBCU.

“Jackson State University means a lot to me because it allowed me to continue my educational journey and prepare me for a rewarding career ahead,” she said. “I’m a better leader because of my experience at this HBCU. The people I encountered helped me understand what it means to be of service and intrigued my desire to be a strong, self-serving social worker.”

The aspiring clinical social worker praised the relationships she established at Jackson State for keeping her motivated throughout her undergraduate studies.

“I want to thank my family and close friends for being supportive and encouraging throughout my journey,” said Washington. “A big thank you goes to my JSU social work student family. We learned, laughed and cried together.”

After graduation, Washington plans to further her education at Tulane University. She has been accepted into their advanced standing master of social work program. The McComb native shared that her ultimate goal is establish a mental health practice in her hometown specializing in trauma in memory of her late son.

“Because of what JSU has done for me, I plan to give back to my alma mater and help someone else the same way I have been helped. I plan to also have a scholarship in my son’s name to honor his life and to help fund [the education of ] future leaders so that they can carry on the JSU legacy.”