From Gangbanger to Bishop Bodyguard
“I chose the streets instead of my education.”
When Michael was going to elementary school, it simply wasn’t required for him to attend regularly. “I wanted to be my own person and do what I wanted to do. They didn’t make you go. You went if you wanted, if you didn’t, you didn’t.” At a young age, Michael recalls, he made the decision to spend more time in the streets than in school. As he grew older, Michael explains that he experienced some harsh consequences as a result of that decision. Now, at age 43, he wants to improve his education, so that he can have a better future.
Michael grew up in Columbus, Ohio in the 1970s. He describes his parents as the type that raised him to love and appreciate everybody. “My mom and dad worked real hard for us to have wonderful things and all the stuff they didn’t have.” Michael was popular in school, got along with everybody, but at a young age found himself in a new crowd.
“I started hanging around in the hood. Hanging out with people who were doing what I should not have been doing. I started being a different person. I was gangbanging, selling drugs… I made some real bad choices. I started making my own money. I thought ‘I can’t go to school and do what I’m doing now.’ So, I felt like I had to choose. I chose the streets instead of my education.”
The last grade Michael completed in school was 8th grade. Since then, he explains that he has been shot, incarcerated, and had a number of different jobs as a construction worker, cook, truck driver, and a warehouse worker. But, he always had education in the back of his mind. “Every time I wanted to start school something else came up. I finally had to stop making excuses.”
Last year, Michael came to Literacy Action of Central Arkansas to pursue his lifelong goal of going to culinary school and becoming a chef. He works with his tutor on reading, writing, spelling, and pronunciation. They spend an hour and a half studying at least once a week. His tutor, Irma, an AmeriCorps Member, says that Michael has the type of dedication that will make him succeed. “He’s making progress, but not quite as quickly as he would like. We’re spending more time going over the foundational skills of phonics. Once he has a stronger foundation, I think he’s really going to take off and see a lot of improvements.”
Michael says that his mom inspires him to learn. “It all cost a lot of heartache and pain for my mom. She was the type of woman that expected a lot from her kids. When I got locked up and I couldn’t pay my respects to her when she passed away… I’m doing it for her and I’m doing it for myself. Even though she’s not here, I feel like she sees what I’m doing. I should have been doing this in the first place.”
In addition to improving his literacy, Michael is active in his community. He provides security for his church’s Bishop and hopes to become a mentor to young men to help prevent them from making the same choices he made when he was younger.
Michael has overcome so much to be where he is today. You can help support Michael’s learning journey or another Literacy Action student by making a donation today. A $25 donation will provide a book for a new student or one who is advancing to a new level!