College Student Leans on Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. Lessons as He Conquers Freshman-Year Challenges

Lincoln, IL — These days, Kendrick Lamar’s song, A.D.H.D., runs through 19-year-old Darnell “Duke” Davis’ mind like a soundtrack of this chapter of his life. A second semester freshman at Lincoln College in Illinois, Duke interprets the lyrics as conflicting expressions of anxiety, stress, fear and hope.

In addition to a basketball scholarship, Duke received a $1,000 Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. Tom Jeffers Endowment Fund Scholarship to cover additional college expenses. He’s determined to prove to everyone who cares about him and helped him make it this far that their investment was worthwhile.

Duke Davis

While Duke’s parents split when he was a toddler, both his mom, a nurse, and dad, a truck driver, and both sets of grandparents have always been there for him. In his junior year at Fenger Prep on Chicago’s south side, his support team grew to include Ragen Lewis, his YAP Advocate mentor. In 23 states and the District of Columbia, YAP partners with youth justice and social services systems, primarily as a community-based alternative to youth incarceration or out-of-home placements. YAP also teams with organizations like Get IN Chicago to provide support for Chicago Public School students who live in neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by gun violence, have experienced loss and/or frequently get into trouble at school.

One of Duke’s teachers enrolled him the day after he argued with a referee who had charged him with a technical foul. “My attitude turned people off — my coaches, staff members at the school, even my family,” he said. “I got good grades, but I guess I just wanted cool points.”

Ragen met with Duke several times a week. She empowered him with tools to identify and realize his strengths. She also pointed him to resources to help him apply for college and deal with issues related to the loss of classmates who’d fallen to gun violence.

“Ms. Ragen is like another mother. She helped me get to practice and faraway games when my parents were working.” — Duke

“I love Ms. Ragen. She lets me know when she’s proud of me. But she also tells me when she’s disappointed.”

Ragen’s mentorship and advocacy for Duke extended beyond school.

“Ms. Ragen is like another mother. She helped me get to practice and faraway games when my parents were working,” Duke said. “I’m the second oldest of five and my mom breaks her back for us; even when she says she’s not going to do something for us, she works long hours to do it. And with his job, my dad is on the road a lot. “

Duke with his Advocate Ragen

In his scholarship application last year, Duke shared how YAP’s unconditional support made a difference for him and others in his life.

“I have benefited from the program because I no longer get kicked out of class and I get along much better with my teachers and my peers. I feel that I am making progress because people treat me better. I realize that my attitude impacts my school performance, my family and everyone around me,” he wrote.

Ragen agreed. “I have watched him these two years change into a very kind and fun-loving young man,” she said.

“I have watched him these two years change into a very kind and fun-loving young man.”- Ragen, Advocate

Duke’s enrollment in YAP ended in May 2018 when he graduated from Fenger, but he still checks in with Ragen. Towards the end of his first semester in college, she was one of the first people he opened up to when he felt the dominoes that he’d lined up begin to topple. It started with a bad mid-term grade, which meant his basketball coach had to bench him.

“It was bad time management on my part. I was doing a lot of things wrong. I brought the D up to a 78, but the head coach still wasn’t letting me practice,” he said. “I was beating myself up and not sleeping trying my best to turn everything in earlier. I didn’t know how to react to it. Things got worse when another player got to take my spot. I had to watch from the stands. I could have sat on the bench, but it was like, why should I?”

When he finally got the courage, Duke let his father know what was happening, telling him he wanted to transfer to another school for a fresh start. “Dad said you can’t really run from your problems.” When Duke spoke to Ragen, she agreed with what his father told him.

Duke has not decided whether he will transfer or talk to Lincoln’s coach about giving him another chance. But he does know that whatever happens, he has to keep his grades up and stay in shape. He has been adhering to a tight regimen, going to class, working out regularly and studying at a certain time — in the library away from distractions in the dorm.

“I realize that my attitude impacts my school performance, my family and everyone around me.” — Duke

Duke wants to make his parents proud — his siblings, too, the younger ones and his older sister who is on a positive career track at Walmart and has her own apartment.

“I want to play ball overseas or just have a nice paying job to help support my mom and dad because they supported me for so many years,” he said.

Duke is haunted by a time he got suspended for ten days in elementary school for making a collage using photos of a classmate to make fun of her weight. He felt terrible, knowing he hurt another child and disappointed his family. He’s focused on doing what it takes to never let that happen again.

In his YAP scholarship application, Duke wrote: “I realize that my attitude impacts my school performance, my family and everyone around me…If awarded this scholarship I will have fulfilled my dream of going to college. A dream is a goal that has unlimited steps that must be continuously worked on. If reaching my dream or goal is easy, that means that dream did not come the right way. I must focus my attention on the present and the near future. Doing a great job and achieving the desired end result is MY PRIMARY GOAL.”