Alicia Lopez Floyd doesn't take motherhood for granted.

The oldest of four children, she practically raised her younger siblings under tough circumstances that included living in a '76 Oldsmobile after it ran out of gas near Abbeville.

Describing her childhood brings tears to her eyes. Listening brings tears to yours.

"Once we lived in a house that fell in on us," she said. "For a while, I slept in the high school press box."

And yet she graduated valedictorian and was student body president and a homecoming queen.

"My drug was school," she said. "I was addicted to changing my life."

Rising above it

Alicia eventually received a full scholarship to Erskine College, where she ran cross country, worked three jobs, double-majored in psychology and business and bought rental property.

"I had to fight the banks to lend me money, but I got it," she said. "That's when I found out I was an entrepreneur."

Determined to excel, she came to the Lowcountry to earn a master's in business administration from The Citadel. There she met Earl Walker, former dean of the business school.

Walker served as a father figure through the Citadel Mentors Association.

"Alicia came from a dreadful ... background and was determined to rise above it," Walker said. "She is all about determination and persistence."

Test before testimony

Meanwhile, Alicia met Tristan Floyd, they bought the fence company he worked for and formed Floyd Fence Co. (www.floydfence.com), which they run together from their home in North Charleston.

They recently received the Small Business of the Year Award. Alicia still plans to earn her Ph.D., but first things first.

Three weeks ago, their son, Ellis, was born, and Alicia, now 26, is determined to provide her child the kind of life she never knew.

"I believe it's about test before testimony," she said. "It's about hard work and finding something that makes life worth living. This really is a land of opportunity. Just because you were given tough circumstances, you can still go out and change things."

She is living proof.

Reach Ken Burger at kbur ger@postandcourier.com or 937-5598.