I come from what some may consider the typical story of a young black man surviving in America. The saying “you are a product of your environment” has some truth to it.
I lost my father when I was three years old due to the violence in my community. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time and was caught in gunfire. He was an active member of the community and an advocate for civil rights in the Los Angeles area. I don’t have many memories of my father, but I know he lived his life with great purpose, and his good will continues to guide my life.
My mother gave birth to me when she was 17 years old. She was a young widow with the burden of supporting a family on her own. She struggled to provide for my younger sister and me, and she worked multiple jobs to make sure we had a meal every night.
A number of my family members were drug abusers. My uncle would steal products from the local CVS or Walgreens and sell them on the streets to make money for his fix. One Christmas, he bypassed CVS and stole my bike. My mother was enraged, her brother disregarded her sacrifice and the happiness of his nephew for his own vice.
I would try to escape the chaos by going outside, but the rugged streets of South Central Los Angeles weren’t any better. I’ll never forget seeing news vans on the corner of my street reporting shootings. I lived with a constant threat of danger around me.
My grandparents would ask me, “What college are you going to?” But college did not seem to be a realistic option until I became a part of the Fulfillment Fund. When I transferred to Gertz-Ressler High School and met Ms. Elizabeth and Ms. Jeune, my Fulfillment Fund counselors, college became an obtainable goal for me.
I was a part of the College Access Program, where Fulfillment Fund counselors would come into our classroom to work with us on the steps for preparing for college – making sure we had the right classes, helping us put together a “brag sheet” for college admissions, showing us what we needed to do for financial aid, and more.
Going to the Fulfillment Fund’s Destination College event put everything in perspective for me – it was an eye-opening experience that made me realize the type of dedication it would take to be successful in college. There were multiple workshops with vital information for college preparation and a college fair with dozens of representatives from universities across the nation. I was able to see all the resources that were available to me, and this helped me change my mindset to see myself as a college student.
I have always felt at home with the Fulfillment Fund. I remember hanging out in Ms. Elizabeth’s office, where I felt that I could be myself. She encouraged me to apply for UC schools when I believed they were out of my reach. The day I received word that I had been accepted to UC Merced with a full financial aid package was one of the happiest days of my life!
During my four years in college the Fulfillment Fund continued to support me. I received the Fulfillment Fund scholarship, and the counselors checked in on me to make sure that my grades were up and asked how I was doing. Every month of my freshman year, Ms. Elizabeth would make a trip four hours up to Merced. She likes to spoil her students!
I've come from the perpetual loop of physical and mental bondage that people of color so easily fall victim to. I am truly blessed to have found my way out. The Fulfillment Fund made the dream of college a reality for me. Without their support, I don’t know where I would be today. I have long imagined the day I would be able to say, “I graduated college,” and that day is now!
I am ready to continue my journey and build a career in urban development. My father’s dedication to community and my mother’s hard work and encouragement are my guides and my motivation. I will strive to give people a better chance, just as I was given.