When Fernandez Evans graduates from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock on Dec. 17, his thoughts will be on his mother who passed away shortly after he was accepted to UALR.
“As I carried the grief of my mother Katrena Evette Thomas into my university years, the one thing I regret is that my mom did not get to see me graduate,” said Evans, 22, of Maumelle, Arkansas.
Evans will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in health education and promotion. In January, he will start graduate school at UALR with the goal of one day becoming a professor of health education at UALR.
“I want to thank them for always supporting and guiding me in the right direction in this field, because I want to be just like them. They are my idols,” Evans said.
Although his mother will not be able to see him graduate, he will be reunited with the older sister he has not seen in over a year and a half. Evans thinks it is fitting that his sister, Vashanti Williams, will see him graduate, since she is the one who inspired him to become a teacher.
“My big sister is a teacher for people with special education in Pine Bluff,” he said. “I have wanted to be a teacher since junior high. It is going to be very emotional to meet up and celebrate an accomplishment like this.”
Evans has faced many challenges on his path to higher education. He is a five-year member of the Arkansas National Guard, serving as a radio operator and communications specialist.
“In my unit, I am the man in the middle who has a backpack and a phone and is telling you what the orders are,” he said. “I’m like the guy in the movies who tells you when an airstrike is coming.”
During his time in the National Guard, Evans’ squad leader, Sgt. First Class Charles Beck, became like a father to him. Sadly, Beck passed away from stomach cancer in May 2015.
“He was not my biological father, but he was the only father figure in my life,” he said. “He was my squad leader and a great man. He was very respectful, and he always taught me to just stay on the right path and be kind to everyone.”
After the loss of his father figure, Evans’ grades slipped. However, he found support in his best friend, John Barnes, and through UALR Student Support Services.
“All of our professors have motivated me, but I have to shout out to Student Support Services in the TRIO programs,” Evans said. “They always made me feel like I am never alone. Ms. Julie Shelby always helped me.”
Going into health education, Evans has always felt an urge to help others. During his internship, Evans was able to work at a wellness center in Atlanta, Georgia, to spread awareness of HIV and work on a suicide prevention hotline for African American gay men.
During his internship, Evans is thankful he met a fellow advocate, Randall Whipple, who helped him come to terms with his own identity as an African American gay man.
“Randall helped me realize that there is nothing wrong with my sexuality, and he helped me realize that I make my own happiness.”
As he thinks about the many people in his life who have helped him reach this point, Evans has a special message for the person who inspired him the most.
“Thank you, Mom. You were afraid as I grew up that I would not make friends. You were afraid that I was not going to get out in the world and live,” Evans said. “I am living, I have friends, and I have a life that you would be proud of.”