I’m a college-educated black man who grew up on public assistance in a single parent household. Most of my friends are dead, in jail or working minimum wage jobs. Did I defy the odds? Statistics say yes, but I never felt that way. What saved me were the standards my mother set for me and the confidence she instilled in me to succeed.
Growing up as a student in Oakland, I faced obstacles in my life that made it hard for me to focus at school.
My biological father left my mother and me when I was a year old. My mom remarried, to a very abusive man who was killed in a drive-by shooting when I was 9. In high school, I was labeled with ADHD, but my mother would not allow me to use that as an excuse.
She was the first person I ever heard say, “Don’t allow other people’s opinion of you become your reality.” That message has stuck with me and it’s something that I still lean on today.
Looking back on my life as a student in the Oakland Unified School District, I don’t know how I made it to this point. I’m a college graduate and starting graduate school at St. Mary’s College in the fall, an author, I’ve worked in corporate America and now I travel the world as a motivational speaker.
Most people know that growing up in an inner city like Oakland can be a challenge, and it was no different for me. The only difference between myself and the people I grew up with were three very strong factors: my mother, sports and my mentors.
Although she never went to college, she understood it was her responsibility to ensure I did. The first big decision my mother made was sending me to a Boys and Girls Club, because she knew I would be safe, meet new people and learn new skills. The second decision was when she became determined to send me to Oakland Tech instead of the failing neighborhood high school.
While my mother always emphasized school before basketball, basketball is what took me to college. I played basketball well enough in community college to earn a partial scholarship to Humboldt State University.
As a 12-year-old at the Boys and Girls Club, I met Earnest “Boozie” Brooks, who served as my mentor. I talked to Boozie about life, the future and everything in between. Since I didn’t have a man to look up to at home, I looked up to Boozie. My mother wanted to meet him and at the time, we didn’t even have a car, but she walked two miles to the Boys and Girls Club to see him. Boozie got her approval and he helped shape me into the man I am today.
My mother made sure she was doing her part to shape me into the man she knew I needed to be.