Started bootcamp

Lyric joined the U.S. Army and began attending college at 4-year school


Transferred to Harold Washington

Feeling unsupported, Lyric transferred to CCC and met Marcus Williams El


Received the keys to a new car

After a terrible car accident, Lyric won a brand-new car

A car and a Harold Washington College education changed Lyric Johnson’s life in ways she never expected.

The alumna’s path to Harold Washington wasn’t a straight line. Lyric admits that, growing up, she wasn’t the most motivated student in school. Still, she graduated from Kenwood Academy on the city’s South Side before beginning boot camp in the U.S. Army.

After returning from boot camp, Lyric started her college journey at a four-year university in Chicago, where she still experienced a lack of motivation. She also didn’t feel supported by the college’s Veterans Affairs representative, so she decided to transfer to Harold Washington.

Soon after, Lyric met Harold Washington’s Veterans Services Specialist Marcus Williams El. She immediately felt the support she was longing for at her previous school.

“It was such a different experience,” Lyric said. “Marcus was so genuine and helpful—not just with my military educational benefits, but he’d always send me information about other resources that could potentially help me.”

Lyric needed to surround herself with people like Marcus who could support her on her path to graduation. During her time as a Harold Washington student, Lyric’s brother was murdered, she spent nine months touring in Afghanistan, and she got into a car accident on the expressway that she wasn’t sure she would survive. Thankfully, she did, and her spirituality helped her persevere and return to school each time. She graduated in May 2023 with an Associate of Arts.

“I trust in myself, and I trust in God,” Lyric said. “I surround myself with the right people and realize everything happens when and how it’s supposed to. That’s what’s pushed me all this way, but it hasn’t been easy at all.”

Right after the car accident, Lyric confided in Marcus, who had become a mentor to her. She told him she was going to get a car. She didn’t know how, but she just felt it. Months after that conversation, Marcus sent Lyric an application to apply for Progressive’s Keys to Progress program. The program donates cars to veterans in need.

Lyric filled out the application and went through rounds of interviews with the Progressive team. She shared that her whole life she’s had to figure things out on her own to improve her circumstances. She told them about her brother, her car accident, and that she had to quit her last job because she didn’t have reliable transportation. Lyric told the Progressive team that a car would help her return to school and work, and help her with grocery shopping, which had become difficult without a car due to shoulder and back injuries.

In the fall of 2023, Lyric learned she was a Keys to Progress winner—the only winner in the state of Illinois this year. She attended a ceremony where she was able to share a few words of gratitude and receive the keys to her new vehicle.

Now that transportation is no longer a barrier, Lyric is once again making plans. She wants to obtain her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and then get a master’s in social work. Her ultimate goal is to work with children.

“I’m grateful that I got the chance to experience being a Harold Washington student. I feel like it changed my life for the greater good,” she said. “I can’t imagine what my life would be like had I not attended Harold Washington. I’m thankful for all the opportunities and for the people I met.”