Former Track Star Caprice Powell ’10 Finds Fulfillment in Education and Mental Health Advocacy

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This is the 33rd article in Bears Doing Big Things, a weekly column celebrating the stories of notable M-A alumni. Read last week’s article here.

“I’ve been running all my life, and it’s been a beautiful experience,” said Caprice Powell ‘10.

Powell graduating from California State University, Sacramento.

In 2006, Powell earned the Key to the City of East Palo Alto for her achievements in track and academics. She led M-A’s varsity track team to victories throughout her high school career and ran Division I on scholarship at California State University, Sacramento, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology in 2015. Now, Powell works as the Program Director of the Literacy Council of Fort Bend County, managing English as a Second Language (ESL), General Educational Development (GED), basic literacy, and citizenship classes for adults.

She remembered, “As a young kid, I was outrunning everyone at community events, so my coach decided to sign me up to compete on a national level. My family did not have much money at the time, so my community rallied to support me, purchasing my trip out of state to Nationals in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It was my first time on an airplane!” 

Powell represented Northern California at the 2006 USATF Hershey Youth Indoor National Championships held in Pennsylvania. She placed fourth in the Intermediate Girls 100-meter dash event the first year, and returned the next year to take second.

Powell’s Key to the City of East Palo Alto award.

“Running was an escape from my day-to-day life,” she reflected. “I grew up in a fairly challenging home environment where drugs were used as a coping mechanism. When my feet hit the track, I could separate from all of that toxicity. When I was unable to articulate or express myself verbally, I could release out on the track; it was my therapy.”

“I also loved the challenge of training and competing,” Powell continued. “I appreciated that my coach pushed me physically and believed in me when I did not always believe in myself. I became addicted to pushing myself to new heights and challenging myself to win one race after another. After a while, I started counting my medals to see how many I could obtain for fun.” 

Powell attended Costaño Elementary School, which has since been renamed San Francisco 49ers Academy, in the Ravenswood City School District, from kindergarten through eighth grade. “My P.E. coach at Costaño was Al Julian,” Powell said. “He is very well-known and respected in the community. He passed away this past March, and I traveled back to California to pay my respects and to speak at his funeral because he really impacted my life in a special way.”

Powell’s medal collection.

Reflecting back on her time at M-A, Powell said, “My freshman year was challenging. The culture at M-A was different from what I was used to. It was the first time I was placed inside of a classroom with many others who did not look like me.”

“I did take an amazing ceramics class my freshman year,” she continued. “I loved the teacher, Deb Gutof, so much. She did not judge, she was super relatable, and the class was very therapeutic. My peers and I had so much going on outside of school, so it was nice to just come into her class and decompress. At that time in East Palo Alto, there was a lot of gang violence and crime happening, and for us to commute from our hometown to M-A day-to-day was tough at times. Ceramics gave us an outlet to be creative and express emotions through art.”

Two projects Powell made for Stacey Woodcock’s English class at M-A.

Powell took most of her classes through M-A’s Computer Academy program. She especially enjoyed Lance Powell’s biology course, which she remembers as “super dope, super fun, and super interactive,” Paul Snow’s history course, and Stacey Woodcock’s English course. “Ms. Woodcock allowed us to express ourselves through writing. She assigned many projects where we had to reflect on our current life situations and where we came from,” she said.

Powell also found community on the track. She remembered, “The culture and community of the M-A track team was my favorite part of high school. The head coach, Victor Hudson and the school health nurse, Tonya Edgington, were amazing; that team was like a family. I ran the 4x100m relay with three other girls—Christina Dixon, Dominique Green, and Keianna Talton—and us four were unstoppable. We went to Nationals over and over again.”

Throughout high school, Powell was also involved in two education-focused nonprofit organizations: Live in Peace and One East Palo Alto. “I joined Live in Peace my freshman year, which was absolutely God-ordained and life changing—to this day, they are my family outside of my own blood family,” she said. “I also worked for One East Palo Alto and helped mentor youth in the community.”

Mentoring younger students set the stage for Powell’s career in education and mental health. “I love being a part of the growth of others. It’s like nurturing a flower—you plant those seeds, water them as they matriculate through life, and watch each one blossom in its own way. It’s very rewarding,” she said.

During her senior year at M-A, Powell tore her right ACL. “Not being able to run was so difficult, and all the more challenging because my family did not have the money or resources for the proper treatment I needed,” she said. “Because of that injury, I had to walk onto the team at Sacramento State and redshirt, or not compete during my first year, to rehab. Then, the year after, I had to prove myself to the coaches, and show them that I could compete at the Division I level. After I completely healed and trained hard through the summer, I started running like I never ran before.”

“I received financial aid as well as support from Live in Peace my first two years,” she added. “The last two years, I was offered an athletic scholarship that helped me tremendously.” Powell still holds one of Sacramento State’s school records in the indoor 55-meter dash. 

“I made sure that I was a student first,” Powell continued. “I took a sociology class, which taught me about different groups and how people think, act, and function in society. I was really interested in that, so I declared a Sociology major,” she remembered. “I was interested in the study of groups of people, culture, and economics. I wanted to use that knowledge to understand the world, myself, and where I come from.”

After graduating from college in 2015, Powell was planning to go into professional track and field. However, on the second day of her post-collegiate training practice, she fell doing hurdle drills and tore her left ACL.

“It was extremely devastating, frustrating and everything in between—having devoted so much work, time and energy into the sport for it all to fall apart again,” she said. “After X-rays confirmed the ACL tear, I took a couple days of feeling sorry for myself and then realized that I needed to figure out my next steps. I started doing research, watching YouTube videos, and praying to God.”

Powell outside of Clark Atlanta University.

Powell resolved to pursue her passion for social work, and began researching Master’s degree programs. “I decided that instead of stressing myself out by applying to every program under the sun, I would pick one, and just really go for it,” she said. “I knew that I wanted to go to a historically Black university, and decided on Clark Atlanta University (CAU) as it had the program I desired and was located in a state I always wanted to visit. The next thing I knew, I applied, I got accepted, and I moved my life to Atlanta Georgia.”

“Transitioning to CAU was also a culture shock,” she continued. “I went from going to Sacramento State, a predominantly white institution, to a predominantly Black one. Although I’m African-American, I have never been surrounded by so many Black people in my life. All of my professors looked like me, which was confirmation that I was exactly where I needed to be.” 

Powell training for track.

Although Powell had moved to Georgia to pursue her Master’s degree, she had not fully let track and field go. “I was rehabbing like crazy. Live In Peace paid for my treatment and I was at it again, trying to get myself fully healed in hopes of competing again,” she remembered. “I was in graduate school while training with a group of professional athletes. I was paying out-of-pocket to train, and once competition season came, I was responsible for getting myself to and from different states to compete. I was training so hard that both of my knees started giving me problems. After having them examined multiple times and receiving scary feedback, I decided I’d rather preserve the longevity of my knees than continue to run on them not knowing where it would lead.”

Two years into graduate school, Powell decided to give up her professional track aspirations. “It was probably one of the hardest decisions to make, but I wholeheartedly believe it was the right decision for me,” she said.

After graduating from Clark Atlanta University with an M.A. in Social Work, Powell moved to Houston, Texas, where she currently resides, and began working for the Literacy Council of Fort Bend County, an adult education nonprofit. She described her work as “one of the most rewarding jobs I could have ever gotten myself into.”

“I work with adults who cannot read or write,” Powell explained. “Many of them have young children in elementary school, and are unable to read them a book, help with homework, or communicate when an email is sent home. I assess adults who cannot speak a word in English but are aspiring to learn so that they can obtain jobs and citizenship. I also work with adults who struggled in high school and now have a desire to enroll in classes to get a GED. It means the world to me to be in a position where I am able to help people become better versions of themselves.”

Looking ahead, Powell plans to move to Chicago, Illinois, and transition into mental health advocacy. “I believe that social work, specifically the mental health field, is where my heart and my passion lies,” she explained. “I’ll be a Patient Advocate at an agency called Pathlight, which focuses on treating anxiety, depression, eating disorders, mood and bipolar disorder. I am extremely excited to embark on this next chapter of my life.”

“I know the importance of mental health,” she added. “I’ve been through several things where I’ve had to heal myself by talking to a therapist, journaling, and praying. Sometimes, you carry so much trauma and do not realize it until you are triggered and have to dig deep to figure out how to heal.” 

Powell’s advice to current M-A students: “Explore different career paths before deciding which one you want to go into. Volunteer and shadow professionals in different career fields and keep an open mind. Work as many jobs as you can while you’re young to gain experience.”

Her favorite book is Black Families in Therapy: Understanding the African American Experience by Nancy Boyd-Franklin. “One of my professors recommended it, and I read it and I was like, ‘Wow, I love this book so much,’” she said. 

“I know that it takes a village. I had a village growing up,” Powell added. “I had Live in Peace, One East Palo Alto, Al Julian, Coach Vic, and the Computer Academy teachers all working together to ensure my success. Now, to pay it forward, I want to be a part of someone else’s village. I know that I have played a significant role while at the Literacy Council, changing lives through adult literacy education, and I am looking forward to continuing my efforts as I transition into the Mental Health field.”

Disclaimer: Bears Doing Big Things is not meant to be a list ranking the most accomplished or famous M-A graduates on Earth. It is a collection of people with a wide range of expertise, opinions, and stages of life who were kindly willing to share their stories. As Maria Popova once wrote, “There are infinitely many kinds of beautiful lives.” Every M-A alum—and every person—is “accomplished” in their own way, and everyone has a story to tell.

Caroline Pecore is a senior in her first year of journalism. Her column, "Bears Doing Big Things," runs every Monday. She enjoys meeting new people through journalism and writing about the M-A community. Outside of school, she spends most of her time rowing for Norcal Crew and also enjoys reading, drawing, and exploring the outdoors.

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