My eleven siblings and I were raised by my mother and father in an environment of extreme poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and constant upheaval. My brothers and sisters were fathered by four different men. By the time I started 6th grade, my family had moved 6 times, between Wisconsin, Arizona, Alabama and California. I believe my parents wanted better lives for us, but for them, that meant selling drugs to make money.
Many times we were living in shelters, or in the basement of family members’ homes. When we were finally able to move into our own place, we were in the middle of gang territory, and we felt the only way to survive was to become friends with the gang members. My older brothers got involved as gang members selling and using drugs, which attracted even more violence to our family. My parents moved our family to California to get into selling drugs in the Sacramento area with one of my mom’s relatives, so we made a cross-country trip with twelve people in a 6-seated van. I thought our home in California was going to be so much better than in Milwaukee, but it was so much worse. We moved into a 3-bedroom, rat infested apartment in Sacramento where the plumbing was so bad that we had to use a plunger every time we used the bathroom. Even so, coming to California changed my life completely.
I came to California with low self-esteem, was shy and quiet, and was barely able to read. I was bullied and made fun of because I wore the same clothes every day. I had to repeat the 6th grade, which made me feel stupid, but nobody in my family cared about education or whether I could read or not. I struggled through 6th and 7th grade, making it to 8th grade with a “D” average. But then things changed. I started to question my parents about their bad habits. Someone at school saw something in me that I hadn’t seen and encouraged me to run for Student Council. I was elected Student Body President, which boosted my pride, helped me overcome my shyness, and made me feel valued – until my office was taken away from me because I had a “D” average. I felt like I was back at “square one,” but this time, it was worse, because everyone else now perceived me as stupid.
One day, as I was sitting by myself at lunch feeling sorry for myself, thinking about how stupid I was, I met Shoulder To Shoulder. One of their mentors came over and asked me to help get ready for a project they were doing at the school next day. I noticed how the mentors took care of the students who were in their mentoring program, so I did help that day, and the next. I saw how the mentors accepted the students for who they were, and I wanted to be part of that, so I joined the program. That’s when my life began to change and I began to have a new perspective on life.
I met the Founder and President of Shoulder To Shoulder, Bill Coibion, and went to Freedom Hall every day. Mr. Coibion and the mentors encouraged me to improve my grades, set goals for myself, and avoid the distractions around me. Mr. Coibion asked me which row I wanted to sit in during 8th grade graduation. Several days later when I told him that I wanted to sit in the first row, he told me that sitting in the first row meant that I had to have a 3.75 G.P.A. He also told me that he and all the mentors believed in me and thought that I had all it takes to sit in the first row. That was the first step to raising my G.P.A. For the first time I realized that it didn’t matter what my parents or other people thought, I had to do what I thought was right for me. It encouraged me to set a goal, believe that I could reach that goal by working hard and avoiding distractions. I set a goal of sitting in the front row at 8th grade graduation, and getting my office as Student Body President back – and I did both, and was also named the top 8th grade male student in the Twin Rivers Unified School District.
I graduated from Grant High School in 2013 with a 3.0 G.P.A. and applied for scholarships from over 30 different organizations, prepared many papers and gave numerous talks. The fruit of my efforts is that I earned acceptance into and was awarded all the funds I need to enter William Jessup University beginning August 2013. Before I came to Shoulder To Shoulder, I never even thought I would graduate from high school, let alone attend a 4-year college – but I did, and I am.
When I came to Shoulder To Shoulder, I didn’t need a father in my life since I had a father. What I needed was a positive male role model; someone who could show me how to walk on the ‘path of righteousness,’ and Shoulder To Shoulder provided me with what I needed. Del Paso Heights is full of men and women who care about children, but they are nothing like the group of righteous mentors caring for the fatherless boys through Shoulder To Shoulder. I am living proof that having a righteous man standing in a young boy’s life can make all the difference. Shoulder To Shoulder is no longer a program to me, it’s family. A lot of other young boys out there are just like I was-boys without hope, who only need that push, and the words, “you can do it, I believe in you.”