Sac State, and here's why: Kenya Burton
June 15, 2023
Senior Kenya Burton, 22, juggled a full load of classes and volunteer work on behalf of domestic violence victims with multiple jobs to finance her dream of earning a college degree.
That hectic schedule and constant pressure to make ends meet left little time for writing poetry – until 2022, when she was among those selected for the CSU's top student honor, the Trustees' Award for Outstanding Achievement.
Burton received $12,000 as the Chancellor Emeritus Charles B. and Catherine Reed Scholar – enough to pay for her last year at Sac State – giving her the freedom to slow down and enjoy her education.
"Students who come from low-income backgrounds don't get to have the same experience as everyone else who may have more support," Burton said. "We're not just worried about homework. We're worried about getting to our second jobs.
"We don't get to relax."
Burton had a chaotic childhood. She said her father, a rapper and poet, also was a violent alcoholic who suffered from schizophrenia.
"We drove by Sac State on the way to the Capitol, and I loved all the trees. I liked what I saw, especially because I was interested in communications and politics." -- Kenya Burton
"The reality is, people with my background who have gone through what I've gone through, the statistics show I wasn't even supposed to graduate high school, let alone make it to college," Burton said. "So, I was willing to do anything, work three jobs and take 15 units, because it was either that or nothing."
Since receiving the award, Burton has become increasingly involved with campus life, joining more clubs and participating in activities and events.
"This is what I wanted to go to school for," Burton said. "I wanted college to be its own experience, not to just get things done. Now, I don't feel like it's passing me by."
Burton, a Communications major who is the youth poet laureate for her hometown of Salinas, also started writing poetry again, returning to the medium responsible for her becoming a Hornet in the first place.
After Burton graduated from high school, state Sen. Anna M. Caballero invited her to recite her poem "The Way I Was Made" at the Capitol for Women's Equality Day. She used her visit to Sacramento as an opportunity to check out a university she was interested in.
"We drove by Sac State on the way to the Capitol, and I loved all the trees," Burton said. "I liked what I saw, especially because I was interested in communications and politics."
When Burton was ready to transfer from Hartnell College in Salinas, Sac State was an easy choice, especially since U.S. News and World Report named it the fourth-most diverse campus in the Western U.S.
"Coming from a diverse home, I wanted to make sure I was going somewhere I'd be represented," said Burton, who is Black and Mexican American. "When I looked up schools, everything I was interested in was here, and the campus is beautiful. There are all kinds of resources for students, including clubs for women of color.
"It all seemed to click in place, and I was like, ‘Yeah, this is my school.' "
Burton may not have to work multiple jobs anymore, but she hasn't given up volunteering, including serving on the Monterey County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council.
She is also helping select a new Salinas youth poet laureate.