Strangers help Wichita teen achieve college goal: 'They gave me an opportunity of a lifetime'

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) - One man's kind gesture is having a major impact on a Wichita teen's future.

His laugh is memorable. His work ethic is honorable. While Tariq Barksdale, 18, may seem a little shy, his smile tells a much different story.

"They gave me an opportunity of a lifetime," said Tariq Barksdale.

Barksdale's opportunity started at Defazio's Italian Restaurant in early January. It was a little after 10 p.m. when the 2016 high school graduate got off work. Without a car, Barksdale started his six-mile trek to his south Wichita home.

"I walk everywhere, walking is nothing to me," he said.

Barksdale said he was about a mile into his walk when he heard someone yell at him.

"It was freezing outside and I'm sure he was pretty cold," said Jacob Villa. "I just hollered at him out the window, 'Hey you want a ride?'"

"Well, at first, you know, everybody is like don't talk to strangers, so I'm like ugh, but then I'm like I need a ride, so I'm just going to take my chances," Barksdale said.

That chance, or choice to get in the car with Villa, would soon change Barksdale's future. As Villa and his son drove the teen home, they started making small talk.

"I started asking him questions on what he's doing out so late and, you know, where is he headed," Villa said.

"I told him I was just working right now, trying to save up money to go to college," Barksdale said.

Barksdale works two jobs. He said he's always dreamed of going to college, but growing up in a broken home with nine other siblings, he didn't think he could do it.

"Where I'm from, money's not that easy," he said.

However, Villa said his decision to help Barksdale was very easy. Villa, who is a youth boxing coach in Wichita, put Barksdale in contact with his younger brother Joshua Villa, who is a current student at Wichita State University (WSU).

"I basically learned as I went so having the resources that I have I wanted to help somebody else," said Joshua Villa.

Joshua is a first generation student and involved with a number of organizations on campus including the Sigma Lamda Beta International Fraternity Incorporated. Joshua said he reached out to his fraternity and several key people on the WSU campus to help get Barksdale into college.

"He was enrolled within 24 hours," Joshua said.

Within a week of meeting Jacob Villa, Barksdale was a full-time Wichita State student. His college expenses were all taken care of thanks to Joshua, his fraternity and WSU faculty member Dr. Marche Fleming-Randle.

"Josh and them took on the buck of the work, but all I wanted to do was to make sure that this young man had an opportunity to be a Shocker," said Dr. Marche Fleming-Randle, the Assistant to the President for Diversity. "Sometimes people are overlooked and I think by the grace of God Tariq was not overlooked."

"I don't do it for the recognition. I do it because it's the right thing to do," said Joshua.

Barksdale finished his first semester at WSU in May. He made the Dean's List and hopes to pursue a degree in education. Currently, he said he's preparing for summer classes while looking forward to the day he will walk across the stage and become the first person in his family to earn a college diploma.

"I think it will be one of the most amazing moments ever," Barksdale said.

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