I grew up in a small town in South Carolina called Georgetown, 36 miles from Myrtle Beach. When I was 4 or 5 months old, my father passed, leaving my mother a single parent. It was me and my big brother, who is two years older.
Only 19, my mother struggled, working two jobs to support us. When I was 3 she got a job at the U.S. Postal Service that forced her to travel back and forth from Columbia, South Carolina to Georgetown. After a while, the two-hour drive made things even more complicated for us all.
My mother took my older brother with her to stay in Columbia and I was left to stay with my grandparents in Georgetown until my mother could get on her feet. When I was 13, my mother moved me to Columbia.
I was doing whatever I wanted to do, whenever I wanted to do it from 13 to 19. I committed crimes. I realized the effects of it one day when my mother had to take me to police headquarters. The look on her face showed disappointment and sadness.
At that point I realized that I never wanted to hurt my mother again, but that the bad choices I made already had.
When I was 19 and in my senior year of high school, I failed the exit exam that determined whether you passed or failed. I moved to Bradenton, Florida, where I worked for the Waste Management Company but was homeless for the first three to four months, staying at the Salvation Army shelter.
After being out of high school for years at a time I had no intentions of resuming my education. My only concern was to be wealthy. In June 2004, at 22, I attended Earle C. Clements Job Corps Academy in Morganfield, Kentucky.
At first Job Corps was hectic. I had never lived in a dorm environment and I was surrounded by strangers. We received an allowance every month but it was only $25.
I then went into the work-study program at a local lumber company in Morganfield to earn extra income. While in Job Corps, I also got my driver’s license, high school diploma and a carpenter helper certification.
I had no plans to resume my education; I still only wanted to be wealthy.
By November 2005, I had completed the carpentry program and achieved everything I wanted to accomplish at Job Corps. The only thing missing was the wealth I desired.
During my last weeks of Job Corps I came into contact with a guy named Dr. Roth who was a millionaire. Dr. Roth helped me realize that there were opportunities to make the kind of money I desired, but that education was the key factor and much bigger than just one skill or trade.
I then fell in love with education, not for the money, but for the opportunity to learn and evolve. I realized that out of all my siblings, there weren’t any college graduates. I was the first.
In 2014, I attended Virginia College and got my state medical assistant certification. I’m now 33, a student at Virginia College finishing a program as a network technician. In another year I’ll be studying for my bachelor’s degree as a health care IT professional.
Now I yearn to not just be a graduate, but a prime example of how change can always be an option.
I’m living proof that opportunity is always presented, but what we do with that opportunity is solely up to us.
I can definitely relate to kids incarcerated with the state Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) because of my past, when carpentry and welding were the only options presented.
I visited the DJJ in Columbia in November to help introduce the kids to programs at Virginia College that could help them once they were released.
But the officers only gave the kids two to three minutes to soak in the information. I felt it was not enough time to learn about something new. Therefore, my colleagues and I took it upon ourselves to give out gift bags with brochures.
We made the kids feel welcomed and even shook the hands of 97 percent of them, encouraging them.
But staff there confiscated for their own personal use the water bottles that we had provided from the school for the kids. I was upset because the message it sends clearly isn’t positive. It leaves the feeling there is no respect and makes the kids feel their hard work is in vain.
The kids will have a higher success rate if they are more educated about different opportunities. They made mistakes, some of them very big ones that may have cost their freedom, but they are still human and this is still America.
The kids are just kids, but we as adults should always hold ourselves to a higher standard of morals and principles. This is my testimony that proves that change is always an option and can always be used for the greater good.
Quentin Grant is a student at Virginia College, now studying to be a network technician.
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