Someone once told me in life that everything that happens to you in your success story happens to you because of the decisions you make. I do not know if these were words of wisdom I heard from a family member or a line from primetime news special. Not really understanding these “words of wisdom” in my younger years, I now know the effect that they can have on your life.
Like most young people in Southeast DC, whether they admit it or not, I grew up in a low-income household. My home was structured, but money for essentials in life got stretched most of the time. I grew up where many older kids did not have High School diplomas and dropping out and getting a job was a necessity. My family always pushed me to believe that the only way that you can make it in this world is by exposure. Since the age of eight, I was enrolled in various types of programs that allowed me to see life differently from the way it was viewed by some of my childhood friends.
By the time I had finished 8th grade, I wanted to explore and believed going to school was not the way that I wanted to spend my time. I dropped out and did not think twice about the words of wisdom that were planted deep into my brain not so long ago. I began selling candy out of a truck in places like Alexandria and Silver Spring. I charged seven dollars for a box of dollar store candy and asked for donations for a “made up cause” that I carried around on a flyer to get people to buy my candy. I made a $1.50 after my managers took their cut. The days would be long and hot and my managers were never at the pick-up location on time. It was the worst sometimes, but still I made money.
My family had given up on the idea of me doing anything great and started asking me to contribute to the house -- clean the house, run to the store, cook dinner, etc. I had to do something to earn my resting place. I became tired and annoyed with being confined to the same walls every day of my life. I was ready to break out. I set my sights on obtaining a G.E.D. and began studying for the test. After going to a few G.E.D. study groups, I noticed that I was more advanced than most people there. I decided re-enrolling in school to obtain a High School diploma was a better option.
After taking a placement test to enter ninth grade, I found a school that I fell in love with -- small classes and just the friendliest people I had ever met in DC. I got in! Maya Angelou Public Charter School changed my life. I felt like that child from some time ago returned eager to explore the outside world once again. After my test results came back, I learned that my reading ability was at an 11th grade level. Since I was entering school as a drop out, I had to double up on my English and my Math classes and finished my first year back in school with over a 3.6 GPA. The following year I was connected with one of the biggest blessings in my life, The College Success Foundation – DC. I spent an entire month away from the environment I knew – living in a dorm room at a local university with someone I never met before and trusting that everything would be alright. After meeting some new friends that I still have today, I made the decision to go to college. My decision was influenced by the College Success Foundation telling me that I was entitled to $50,000 in scholarship money. I applied to over 30 schools and got accepted to 19 colleges and universities across the United States. I decided to attend The William Paterson University of New Jersey and major in Public Relations. I will receive my Bachelor’s Degree this year. I also made the decision to give back to young men and women through volunteering with The College Success Foundation - DC.
Someone once told me in life that everything that happens to you in your success story happens to you because of the decisions you make. I made the decision to not be a statistic. The decision to succeed or not is not a hard one these days. I just think about the decisions that I made to become the determined, hardworking, and dedicated young man that I am today. My network of mentors and supporters always tell me that I am a success story, I always reply, “Don’t forget to say ‘in the making.’" – I have not decided that this is the end of my success story yet.
DC Alliance of Youth Advocates and The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region would like to thank Cornell Lyons for sharing his story so we may best understand the experience of disconnected youth in Washington, DC. To learn more about disconnected youth in the District view the report Connecting Youth to Opportunity: Better Understanding the Needs of Disconnected Young People in Washington, DC.
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