Best friends separated by COVID, South Bay interns pick up where they left off

SAN JOSÉ — If the last two years have taught us nothing else, it is that friendships are what keep us going in the most difficult moments. Veronica Toscano and Nyia Roberts are two Students Rising Above fellows whose bond has remained stronger than ever.

They recently met again, after not seeing each other in person for more than two years due to the pandemic. The two are like sisters, so their separation of years during COVID has been difficult.

“Let me not cry talking about her,” Roberts said of her friend and SRA mentor. “But Veronica is very special to me…she’s become like a big sister, you know, being a first-generation college student, not a lot of people have shared that experience.”

The close friends have kept up with each other through weekly text messages, phone calls and video chats. So Toscano is aware of, and is quick to brag about, all of Robert’s recent accomplishments.

“She goes to school, getting her master’s degrees,” Toscano said of her friend. “She works weekends at a retail store, and on top of that, she’s a student mentor, and I think you work at a school right now? This girl got a 4.0!”

So when she missed Robert’s college prom, held in the summer of 2019, Toscano was bummed. But so was Roberts, as she shared the happy occasion with her best friend, her mother, Ann Shulmister.

And together, the couple shared with KPIX the struggles they face as a biracial family.

“When people see me, the first thing they see is my skin,” Roberts explained in 2019. “And they may not think I’m biracial and that’s really hard because it’s like they’re denying a part of me.”

“As a mother, it hurts,” Shulmister said. “Because as parents we always want to protect our children, but the reality is that we can’t. [My daughter’s] turned that into his record.”

Robert’s drive has kept her moving forward, while struggling with other racial biases. And when she needed a safe space to relax during college, Toscano stepped in to help…offering Roberts a place to stay.

“She gave me a safe place to stay!” said Roberts of Toscano. “Veronica offered me her house. She really needed it at the time. She needed someone and she was there.”

Now Toscano’s support gives Roberts confidence. At San Jose State University, Roberts makes an effort to connect with other black graduate students on campus.

But it is her connection to Toscano that has given both women a renewed sense of family.

“I am so happy to be a mentor, now I have a little sister and family is very important to me,” said Toscano. “And she is so wise. I wish I had met her sooner.”

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