Why you should care

Because opportunities to advance should never be limited to a chosen few.

OZY and JPMorgan Chase & Co. have partnered to bring you an inside look at how innovation can help strengthen communities. Enjoy the rest of our special series here.

School was never a comfortable place for me. In elementary school, kids made fun of me when they saw my mother waiting at the gates. She looked like she was on drugs — because she was. I was born prematurely because of her addiction.

Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, it’s easy to get lost in the struggle of life. I watched my brother get involved with the wrong crowd, lose track of his desires and end up another statistic among young Black men. I remember seeing the fear in his face as the flashing lights of police cars lit up our driveway and hearing the heavy knocks at the door as we were ordered to come out with our hands up. And I remember how it felt as the police raided our home and my family and I had to stand barefoot in the cold, shamed as curious neighbors came by to look.

When you’re born into this life, it’s easy to feel angry that someone else’s choices have defined who and what you are before you could even speak. But I had hope. My grandmother was my guardian angel; she told me that I matter, that I would not be defined by the beginning of my story. She helped me to believe that I could create my own, better opportunities. When she died, I recall looking up at the sky and noticing it was gray and dark. But I could also see the sun trying to fight its way through the clouds. Each time a ray of sunlight broke through, the clouds would rush across and cover it again. But the sun never gave up. I knew that, eventually, the clouds would clear and the sun would shine.

In high school, I began to take charge of my own destiny.

In high school, I began to take charge of my own destiny. I joined the varsity football and rugby teams and was nominated team captain for both. I joined track and field and was elected to the student council as athletic commissioner. And I joined The Fellowship Initiative (TFI), a leadership program that helps young men of color from distressed communities to excel in school, college and their careers.

TFI is a brotherhood. Through it, I have met other young leaders from across the country with stories just like mine. The program, created by JPMorgan Chase, brings us together with mentors, coaches, role models and speakers who provide intensive academic, leadership and entrepreneurship training, guiding us toward the path to success. It has also shown me the world: a trip with TFI to South Africa and Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, taught us about hope, empowerment and resilience. This year, 117 students from Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City completed the TFI program — and 100 percent graduated high school. I interviewed Jamie Dimon during our graduation and shared how valuable this journey was for us.

I have gone from feeling out of place at school to accomplishing many things there. I am always trying to get better. I strive to perfect everything I do because I know those clouds will keep trying to define me. But I won’t lose sight of my hopes and aspirations. My sun will shine, no matter the obstacles.