The day my mom enrolled me into Thurgood Marshall Academy Charter High School, changed my life forever.

Thurgood Marshall Academy High School, Washington, D.C.

Summer of 2004, I graduated from Junior high school. Most graduates knew they were all attending the same high school next year. In the Washington, D.C. public school system, if you didn’t opt to attend the school of your choice, you would enroll in your nearby high school. In this case, I would had enrolled at Ballou Senior High School.

I told my mom I didn’t want to attend there. At the time, Ballou was known for its on-going violence, shootings and gang-related activities. Academically, most students were performing below average with the plans of college out of reach. The following day, my mom and I spoke about potential high schools I could attend. “This time I’ll let you choose the high school you want to go to.” My mom says. “Really?” I said enthusiastically as I stood up at the dinner table we were sitting at. I couldn’t believe the words that came from my mom’s mouth. Selecting the school of my choice was like knowing you’re going to be the first pick in the NFL draft.

My eyes were set on Gonzaga College High School. The first image you see upon entering the school were championship trophies displayed throughout the halls. My jaw dropped. “She must let me come to this school.” I thought as I tried to figure out why my mom would say no. I was overwhelmed with the amount of success Gonzaga attained over the years. I knew this would be a great fit for me. My eyes were set on one day playing in the NFL since Gonzaga can put me in a position to play football in college (given their athletic success). Successful people who looked like me played sports so I figured that football was for me. All I could think about is scoring the game-winning touchdown for Gonzaga; my name etched in the school hallways forever.

Gonzaga College High School, Washington, D.C.

“You’re not going to that school to play no damn football.” My mom said angrily. “I can’t have you going back and forth on the train. The school is too far from our home and I don’t have time for no gang members.” “But mom, the school is amazing and I can win a championship there and go to the NFL.” I said as I tried to keep my hopes alive. “NO! Now go and clean your damn room up.” She said while scolding me. I head to my room, slam the door shut and buried my head into the pillow. “Don’t be slamming no doors in here! Do you pay any bills?” My mom’s voice echoing upstairs to me. My dreams of attending Gonzaga College High school were shattered.

A few days later, the pieces of my future were picked up after my mom received a phone call from my aunt. I peeped my head outside my room door as I can hear the conversation on speaker. “Girl send him to Thurgood Marshall.” My aunt said enthusiastically. My mom and aunt spoke for hours discussing this fairly new charter school in town. Fall of 2004, I’m a khaki colored pants wearing, WWE loving nerd at Thurgood Marshall Academy (TMA). I studied my first year there in an often-flooded church basement. The school was founded in 2001 and conducted classes at a church until 2005. “Today, TMA has a newly-renovated, state-of-the-art building with 21 classrooms, a spectacular library that can hold 10,000 volumes, an outdoor classroom, and a moot courtroom. The building constitutes the perfect home for Thurgood Marshall Academy, given its proximity to the homes of Thurgood Marshall Academy students and families.”

Thurgood Marshall Academy High School, Washington, D.C.

The biggest advantage I saw in TMA were the resources. The school was loaded with any sort of information you could imagine. I was more than prepared to succeed; and in result, I thrived. Because of how well TMA prepared me, in 2007, I won a college scholarship (worth $200,000 USD) to attend the University of Vermont. Back home, there wasn’t anyone who graduated or attended college. That all changed when I did well academically at TMA and secured the money to pay for school. I wrote a list of my dreams and told my mom that I wanted to go to college, travel the world and save my city; by becoming Mayor of Washington, D.C.

The list I made and showed to my mom. Brought it to college with me as a reminder to keep going.

Today, I am traveling the world and teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I also will attend Harvard University Extension School next spring to pursue a Master’s in Government. I am returning home this winter because of graduate school and to continue my mission to become the first Mayor of DC from the south side (born and raised).

Thurgood Marshall Academy Graduating Class of 2016

Thurgood Marshall Academy is an academic powerhouse. One-hundred percent of there graduating classes (since its founding in 2001) has been accepted into college. This school made me realize that life is bigger than football. It taught me how to engage in a democratic society while developing my human capital. My Alma mater is considered to be the third best school in the city. And they’re proving why they’re the real deal by sending ALL of our future doctors, lawyers, and teachers off to college every year. Thurgood Marshall Academy has changed my life in a numerous ways:

  1. TMA kept me safe from violence and the streets.
  2. Inspired me to attend college.
  3. Gave me the academic foundation I needed to succeed.
  4. Taught me to write and speak well (in addition to debating).
  5. Allowed me to see the world beyond my own backyard.
  6. Gave me my best friend, Chris Roe (son of one of the co-founders of TMA, Richard Roe).
  7. Encouraged me to keep believing in my dreams and fight for I want out of life.

Of course I must not forget how grateful and honored I am to graduate from the University of Vermont (UVM). Of all the lessons I’ve learned there, UVM has taught be to always be a professional, network and to accept people no matter where they come from or what their background is; a key piece of advice I cherish today as I travel the world.

Many people around the often ask me, “How did you become so successful”, “How are you doing all of this as a Black man?”, “Isn’t it tough being out here?”, or “How are you not apart of your environment dead or in jail somewhere?” The last question disturbs me but these are the questions I deal with everyday here in Southeast Asia. It takes a village to shape a strong minded leader. No one can do it alone. My mom, schools, mentors and my own power of belief and will propelled me here. I am grateful to see the world and be in a position of influence and change, where I was raised in a place of despair. And I am encouraging people to not give up on their dreams, follow your heart and to trust the process. There will be moments of doubt and hard situations to deal with, but in the end, you will rise.

I took a chance, put my faith in God and jumped. Now it’s your turn. I’m returning to America with one goal in mind; to help as many people as I can. If you work hard and strive for greatness, anything is possible. Stay focused, garner support and push forward.

My students and I in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. 2017
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