Larica Brown was 10 when she said goodbye to her homeland of Jamaica. Her father, Lorenzo, wanted to give her a better life, she said.
“The move was good and very scary at the same time,” said Larica, who was born in Montego Bay, on the country’s north coast. “People in my life always find a way to build a better life for themselves and I intend to follow in their footsteps.”
She said her father fell in love with a woman from Michigan, who is now her stepmother Joanne Brown, and she and her father made life-changing moves to the United States, albeit separately.
Her father immigrated to the U.S. in 2008, and then filed to bring Larica in 2010.
Larica, a recent fifth-year senior in Cedar Springs’ Early Middle College program, will graduate from both her high school and Grand Rapids Community College this summer. The program gives students the opportunity to receive a high school diploma and an associate degree (or up to two years of credit toward a bachelor’s degree) in the span of five years for free.
“Cedar Springs has brought many amazing opportunities in my life,” said Larica, who finished high school with a 3.94 GPA. “One of my major accomplishments is being in the top 10% of my class and finishing high school with not only a diploma, but an associate degree. I am the only person in my family to achieve that goal.”
Before moving to Cedar Springs, Larica attended Innovation Central High School in Grand Rapids, saying it was a “very diverse and amazing school,” and “comfortable place” for her to be.
However, she said her parents wanted to move away from the city to a more quiet, country-like lifestyle, and called Cedar Springs a bit of a culture shock, saying there weren’t many people there that looked like her. But that wasn’t a barrier.
“Because of the lack of diversity in the school, I wanted to be an example to others that look like me,” Larica said. “So, I studied and worked my way to the top, and I knew my family didn’t have the financial means to put me through college so I kept my head up and mind clear and it has got me this far.”
Looking Toward the Future
She plans to attend Central Michigan University next fall with help from a few scholarships, including international honor society Phi Theta Kappa, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation and a merit scholarship. Larica intends to major in social work with a pre-medicine track and minor in cultural and global studies.
After CMU, she wants to attend the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and do her residency at Spectrum Health.
“But after I have completed my residency, I hope to join Doctors Without Borders and travel the world for a couple of years and give back to those who are not as fortunate as me,” said Larica, an e-board member of Phi Theta Kappa at GRCC and a cabinet member of the National Honor Society at Cedar Springs.
Larica, who has CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and CNA (certified nursing assistant) certifications, currently works at Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.
While her year on the GRCC campus was cut short due to the state’s stay at home order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Larica worked a minimum of 32 hours per week feeding, bathing and helping residents with many tasks. She also attended GRCC during that timespan.
Larica said the quarantine has brought a lot of anxiety and was like watching a “crazy video that no one thought would happen.”
“My father brought me here to get a better education because that’s one of the messages that represents the United States,” Larica said. “But this quarantine has made me realize that not everyone has the same opportunity to attend college no matter how hard they work. And education is everything for me.”
Her dad is a supervisor at Erhardt Construction, a position he worked up to from sweeping and cleaning job sites. “My father has helped me succeed by letting me see how much hard work can pay off.”
During Christmas of 2018, Larica visited her mom and other family members in Jamaica.
“It was amazing to go back and see them and experience things that I never knew I missed.”
Cedar Springs High School Principal Ron Behrenwald has high expectations for Larica.
“She has had some challenges in her life, but she has excelled and is going to make a huge difference in her community and world.”
Larica said she loves to read and watch travel Vlogs as a way to escape through imagination and to learn more about different cultures.
“I want to be educated and know more about the people that I will learn and grow with and I refuse to live in ignorance and be hateful toward those I do not understand.”