Before finding her calling in a transportation career, LaTonya Curley always knew she wanted to make a difference in the world—but she wasn’t always sure how.
“I have a passion in helping, and I’ve always been like that,” said the Jackson State University doctoral student in a recent interview with Fast Forward.
It wasn’t until college, when a close family member was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, that LaTonya would discover her purpose in public transportation.
“The ‘aha’ moment came to me when my grandfather was diagnosed with renal care problems,” she said. “In my hometown, there was no public transportation. It bothered me that there were elderly who couldn’t get back and forth to doctor’s appointments and things of that nature.”
“I said, ‘We have to do something about this,’ when I realized not only was it my grandfather, but I’m looking and I’m thinking, ‘How many more do we have in the area that can’t afford transportation back and forth to these appointments?'”
Seeing people in her community struggle to get to the doctor to receive medical care made LaTonya realize the importance of transportation—something that many of us take for granted. She chose to dedicate her career to improving public transportation for the people of Mississippi. She enrolled in transportation courses at Jackson State, where she began working on a project to improve public transportation in the area.
“I started looking at ways to increase public transportation within the Mississippi Delta, to make sure that people could get to their doctor’s appointments, could get to the grocery store, and those things that are needed,” she said.
After finishing her bachelor’s and master’s degree, LaTonya decided to pursue a doctoral degree. By this time, she had begun to realize just how much transportation actually impacted the quality of life of the people around her.
“As you may know or you may not know, Mississippi is known as the number one state for obesity, diabetes, and things such as heart problems,” she told Fast Forward. “So I was looking at the fact that we always drive back-and-forth to work—that you don’t see many kids walking to school because you have the buses picking them up. … So what are some of things that we can do to help our state reduce the obesity rate, or reduce the diabetes rate and the different health disparities that are attacking us? What can be done?”
Today, LaTonya is focusing her doctoral research on promoting active transportation, like bicycling or walking. She hopes that by doing so, she can encourage people to live a healthier lifestyle, possibly preventing health problems in the first place.
“I wanted to do something to encourage the individuals of Mississippi to think more of themselves and just increase their active transportation,” she said. “Let’s see how we can increase active transportation in the state of Mississippi.”
LaTonya says her grandfather’s words of encouragement continue to inspire her to do all that she can to improve the lives of those around her. She tells Fast Forward readers that she believes education is the key to making a difference in the world.
“If I was to encourage the youth, or a young lady my age, I think I’d have to tell her what my grandfather told me: education is first. … Anything is possible, but you have to put forth the effort. You can’t sit back and look at everyone else shine—you have to shine for yourself. And if you put forth an effort, there’s no telling where education will take you.”