Tori Correia’s passion and dedication to addressing injustice and helping others are traits that have been long recognized by her family and friends, particularly her late mother and her Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. sisters at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH)—all of whom have played a critical role in developing that strength within her.
Today, the depth of Correia’s character is frequently recognized off campus, most recently by the Torrance Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce, which honored her Feb. 24 with the “2016 Inspirational Spirt Award” at the 19th Annual Black History Celebration.
“I was shocked when I found that I was going get the award. People always say to me ‘You’re so busy. You do a lot of things,’ but I didn’t think it would get me nominated for something like that,” said Correia, a senior studying human resource management and minoring in computer information systems at CSUDH.
During her remarks, Correia shared her deep love and admiration for her family, such as her father James Dunn, who attended the ceremony with her grandmother Evelyn Singleton. She also talked about her mother Tamara Singleton, who passed away from cervical cancer when Correia was 16 years old.
“My mother’s passing change my life completely. My mom was my best friend, and I’m not just saying that. She truly was my best friend. Not only did she die, but I watched her die. She had stage 4 cancer when the doctors found it, but she beat it,” Correia shared. “But it was the hardship of the chemotherapy that ended her life. I watched her go through everything that she had to go through. She was really trying to hold on until I graduated from high school, but that was over a year away.
“When you’re a kid you take things for granted, you’re like ‘All I have to do is call my mom, so no problem,’” she added. “My mom was the kind of parent who would be there for you completely—even now at 22 years old she’d still let me fall back on her.”
A Little Help from Her Friends
Correia then praised her sorority sisters—two of them were at the celebration to support her—as those who have helped guide her the most through her personal achievements and ambitious academic goals at CSUDH, and have also been there for her when Congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a condition she has had her entire life, puts her health at risk.
“During my first two years as a college student I felt disconnected from campus life because I have a life-threatening condition, which made it difficult at times for me to be actively involved in the campus community,” said Correia, who lives in Los Angeles. “However, during my second year, I met a group of women who are members of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. Since then, my excitement has overshadowed my illness. They have helped me find the support, energy and enthusiasm to volunteer my time, and be an active participant in the community and on campus.”
Correia was nominated for the “Inspirational Spirt Award” by Brian Cruz, an academic adviser in CSUDH’s Early Opportunity Program. She credits Cruz for helping build her educational path in college, calling him her “personal advocate.”
“All these amazing men and women [her sorority] help me lay the first stone for those I mentor,” she said. “They have emphasized the importance of scholarship and service, and what that means for people of color as a whole.”
Through her sorority, Correia has helped create outreach programs and events, including “Get the 411 on the 5-0,” a forum at CSUDH designed to help bridge the gap between law enforcement and the campus community by providing students a chance to speak directly with campus police officers to help alleviate tensions after the unrest if Ferguson, Missouri. The City of Compton’s chapter of the NAACP also joined the panel.
Correia is currently working on launching a student chapter of the NAACP at CSUDH through collaborations with students from the university’s Africana Studies Department, the Male Success Alliance, Greek organizations, and through multiple other groups on campus.
Currently, Correia served as a CSUDH representative for JusticeCorps, an AmeriCorps program that recruits and trains college student in the areas of family law and housing law, and are placed in self-help centers throughout Los Angeles County to assist self-represented litigants throughout their court cases. She logged more than 300 hours of community service in that role.
“I love being involved within the campus community as a whole. You have a lot of important connections when you’re involved with multiple groups,” said Correia. “Being in these organizations gives me support. We all know that two minds are better than one, so many minds can only be better. I think of it like this: my dreams are big, but together our dreams could be humongous.”
When she graduates this spring, Correia’s goal is to become a social worker in the Los Angeles County, and launch a nonprofit organization for “vulnerable women and youth” that will be a “safe haven” for women in dangerous situations, and a place for children to go after school.
Correia has no doubt that it was her mother who rooted within her the desire to help others, calling her a “caregiver all the time I knew her.” She also credits her mom for giving her that critical push in the right direction.
“I will never forget the last thing my mom said to me. She said ‘Go to college baby, make mommy proud. I love you,’” she said.