It will be 22 years after she first stepped foot on a college campus that Sheena Blake will have earned her Associate in Arts degree, but the 39-year-old single mother of five is just getting started.
Blake, of Maitland, will officially receive her associate degree from Polk State College on May 5 with the 126th graduating class. Despite a long and difficult road, Blake said she never doubted herself.
“I did not ever doubt that I would finish,” she said. “I’m one of those people who is very passionate about finishing what I start.”
Blake was pregnant when she graduated high school and had all five of her children by the age of 25. As a young wife and mother, Blake overcame domestic violence, financial instability, and housing insecurity, as well as obstacles related to transportation and mental health to get where she is today. Blake said she was fortunate to have the support of her family, particularly her mother, Jelores Blake.
“The family support was pivotal,” Blake said. “I had always been a proud person and didn’t want to rely on anyone else. I had to learn to forgive myself for wrong decisions in the past. It was about learning to move forward.”
Blake’s first experience with college came in 2000 when she was enrolled at another school. Despite living more than an hour away from Polk State, Blake said the College’s affordability and admissions process made it the right choice over other local colleges when revisiting her education goals.
In addition to tuition, Blake said Polk State allowed her to save money in other ways. For many courses, books were available online as opposed to having to pay for them. Through Polk State’s Open Educational Resources initiative, tens of thousands of students have saved well over $1 million in textbook costs since 2017.
Hard Work and Perseverance Passed Down
Despite facing a multitude of adversity at a young age, Blake has always excelled as a professional. After thriving in sales, Blake earned her real estate license in 2008. She now owns her own real estate firm called MODISH Realty with five total employees. MODISH is an acronym for Modern, Original, Daring, Innovative, Stylish Happening.
As a mother, Blake said her children are all uniquely talented. Her oldest child, Jasmyne, 23, is a self-employed loctician and a burgeoning TikTok star. Her oldest son Jaylin, 21, also owns a real estate license and is working on getting his general contractor’s license. Jarvys, 17, excels on the basketball court and in the classroom while Ronnie Joseph Jr., 14, is a programmer, natural salesman and businessman in the making.
“I’m just so fortunate to have her as a parent,” Jaylin Blake said. “It’s not easy raising five children by yourself. Her perseverance and creativeness and drive – years later, I look back and it’s all just so amazing.”
Blake’s strongest child, however, is her middle child named Jaiyel, 18. Born with Sickle Cell Anemia, Moyamoya Disease and bilateral hearing loss, he, like his mother, continues to persevere. He’s currently studying to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).
“He’s been our strongest person,” she said. “He holds us all together.”
Throughout the process, Blake said her children have been supportive. They’ve made small sacrifices such as keeping their voice down, asking for fewer things or having small snacks to hold them over until dinner, so she had more time for schoolwork.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” said Jaylin Blake about his mother graduating. “I saw her struggle as a single parent and to see what she’s accomplishing now is amazing.”
What Lies Ahead — Helping Others
Blake isn’t done with Polk State. She plans on pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice at Polk State and later, a law degree from Florida A&M University.
Blake said she wants to use her education to help others. In some ways, she already has.
Blake likes to mentor young people and has helped several get their real estate license. In some cases, she saw the potential and wanted to prevent them from taking the wrong path. Others, she said, were friends of her children who appreciated their home lives. Many of those who Blake has mentored come from rougher areas such as Pine Hills.
“I wanted to help the ones who had not yet gone in the wrong direction,” she said. “They really latched on to the way we presented ourselves. Fortunately, I was able to direct them.”
One of Blake’s employees is her oldest son. With his mother’s help and encouragement, Jaylin Blake started his own photography company called “JayLens” when he was in seventh grade.
“As people (in general), we make all kinds of excuses for ourselves,” he said. “She always said to work with what you have and to make it perfect later. I always wanted people to meet my mom. She’s just so different and so special.”
Jaylin Blake said he watched his mother do several things over the years from sales to real estate to planning weddings to serving as a notary public. She once ran her own nonprofit called, “Take Your Place,” which taught financial literacy, among other things, to young people. Most of those were minorities from disadvantaged neighborhoods.
“I have friends with 700 credit scores who my mother mentored,” the son said. “A lot of people really gravitated to her experience and expertise. She’s the most intelligent person I know. I watched her do so many things that it was easy for me to do things I was passionate about.”
Blake’s long-term goal is to be a civil rights attorney. Hopeful to have a law degree by the age of 45, Blake said she’d like to find a cause like the New York-based Innocence Project, which seeks to overturn convictions of those wrongfully incarcerated.
“I just want to be a voice for people with no recourse,” Blake said. “I’d really like to serve as a voice for those were wrongfully accused.”
Blake would like for her story of perseverance to serve as inspiration for others in a similar situation or who wonder if it’s too late.
“I had a realization that it wasn’t too late to accomplish my goals,” she said. “I feel like as long as we are breathing, it is not too late. You need a good support system. Positivity is important.”