Nigerian immigrant protests to receive financial aid money

Clem Richardson and Clem Richardson

NEW YORK — Mary Shodiya’s ticket to higher education was a handheld sign.

“Hello! I’m Mary, I’m brilliant. Columbia University agrees. All I need is a loan. Name your interest rate,” it read.

Thanks to that audacious sign, the 19-year-old from Brooklyn moved into her Barnard College dormitory last week.

Just seven days earlier, the brilliant student — Shodiya had earned 20 college credits in high school — had no idea how she would come up with Barnard’s $40,000 annual tuition.

Enter the first angels, Liz Barry and Bill Wetzel. Shodiya met them two weeks ago as they sat in Union Square under a sign that read “Talk to Me.”

Barry said “Talk to Me” is a year-long project the partners have undertaken that uses the sign to start people talking to each other.

Wetzel suggested they take it to Wall Street, Barry said, “because that’s where the people with money are.”

Nothing had happened by 4 p.m., when Barry and Wetzel called it quits. Shodiya decided to stay.

There she remained when Judith Aidoo passed by shortly after 6 p.m.

Aidoo told Shodiya to fax a copy of her Barnard acceptance letter.

“When I got home around 11:15 p.m. she had already sent the fax,” Aidoo said.

Aidoo got on the phone and sent out an e-mail to her contacts.

“Then I told them to make the check out to Barnard and reference Mary on it,” she said.

The morning after they met, Aidoo called Shodiya at home. “She said, ‘I have $5,000 for you,'” Shodiya said.

Donations came in from people like Kneeland Youngblood, a friend of Aidoo and president of Pharos Capital Group, a Dallas-based private equity firm, who gave $2,500.

Shodiya, meanwhile, is overwhelmed by her good fortune.

“I know there is no way that I get out of here and not help other students like me who need help going to Barnard or Columbia,” Shodiya said. “When I make my millions, you can bet I am going to give back.”