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The Life of Keya M Graves

Keya Graves, a Chips Quinn Scholar who learned early in her journalism career the value of seeking out each person's unique story, died June 23 at her home in Media, Pa., after a long battle with cancer. She was 26.

As a Scholar, she was assigned to The Detroit News in Summer 2000.

Born Oct. 30, 1976, in Spartanburg, S.C., Keya was an infant when she moved with her parents, Kim and Donna Graves, to the Philadelphia area.

She took to writing from the very start, Donna Graves said. “She always loved to write. I have so many journals of hers, which she's been keeping ever since she was little.”

Entering Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1996, Keya jumped into the world of journalism.

She joined the school’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, serving as its historian and then president. She also was a member of the National Association of Black Journalists. She wrote for a local paper and for her campus newspaper, The Hilltop.

“She got involved in things immediately,” said Barbara A. Hines, associate professor at Howard and then the journalism department's chairman. “She was one of those stars. It’s very unusual for freshmen to get bylines, but Keya was getting them.”

During her sophomore year, Keya became one of 7,400 or so people diagnosed each year in the United States with Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

“To most people those numbers do not mean anything, but to me they all have a face and a story,” she once wrote.

The cancer was arrested, and Keya carried on with journalism. She was a research assistant with Channel 7, the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C., and spent a Summer at the Delaware County Daily Times in Primos, Pa. There, she wrote a series on the lives of senior citizens, through the lens of health and love.

Keya came to the Chips Quinn Scholars Program by way of Sue Burzynski, associate editor of The Detroit News. The two met at a Howard job fair.

“I was impressed with how personable she was,” Burzynski said. “She was excited about writing. Her cover letter said: ‘I believe that everyone has a story to be unwrapped.’ ”

Keya was assigned to The News’ Oakland County bureau, where she handled a range of stories, from suburban sprawl, to the world-renowned Port Huron-to-Mackinac boat racing, to obituaries.

She had the qualities that are key to excelling as a journalist -- curiosity, compassion and an extraordinary openness to ideas and life.

Perhaps most important, she knew how to get things from people.

Once, apparently without her professors' knowledge, Keya secured a grant from SPJ headquarters to set up an exchange between some Howard students and students at a D.C. high school to discuss writing.

“I was stunned,” Hines said. “SPJ made the check out to her personally. The chapter administrator at that time didn’t even know, and didn’t even realize that the kids had done that. I read about it in Quill, and I thought, ‘How nice.’ ”

Keya pursued her work, but not at the expense of other interests -- or of having a good time.

Chips Quinn alum Jennifer Sinco Kelleher recalled how the two had become fast friends in Detroit.

“From salsa dancing to eating Middle Eastern cuisine, Keya and I were never bored," Kelleher wrote. “We danced in clubs as if we were the only people in the room. We roamed around Detroit's diverse neighborhoods. With a wide grin and bright eyes, Keya was always willing to experience something new.”

“Her excitement for life always amazed me,” said Ebony Filer, also a News Chipster at the time. “She was just a ball of energy, bouncing through life and having fun doing it.”

Keya did not talk much with her new friends about her first go-around with cancer.

“When I knew her, she had already battled the disease once, yet rarely ever made me

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