Marquel and I met seven years ago when he was 11 years old and starting the sixth grade. He was living in Western Heights and his father was incarcerated at the time. I remember that he really wanted to go to Chuck E Cheese the first time we met! Middle school years were hard for Marquel, he was suspended on average once a month during his sixth grade year. The suspensions were for inappropriate contact with peers, posturing, threatening and talking back to teachers. These suspensions continued in his seventh grade year as well. Those around him said he was destined for the streets and to follow in the footsteps of his family. His mom regularly sold drugs and was incarcerated multiple times over his middle and high school years. After a year or two in, I had some doubts about whether I was making a difference. Marquel was primarily concerned with what I would buy for him or what activities I could provide for him. It wasn’t entirely developmentally inappropriate, but it was hard to deal with the demands at times. I questioned whether I should stop, but my wife encouraged me to continue.
As Marquel matured (and as I matured), our relationship started to grow and blossom. He opened up to me more and we talked about more and more of his life. Sometimes we would go out and talk for hours. He leaned on me and asked for my advice and input. He was not suspended during his whole high school tenure.
He graduated with distinction from Fulton High School in May 2016 and will be attending MTSU this fall, majoring in business. He received enough through a Project Grad scholarship, Pell grants lottery scholarship and MTSU scholarship, that nearly all of his school will be paid for. I was honored to help him through the process of studying for his college entrance exams, apply for colleges, making campus visits and even being at MTSU for his first day of classes.
He has compassion for his family, but wants to choose a different path. He still can’t beat me in basketball, but he tops in me courage, resilience, and maturity. I cried at his graduation and I cried when I dropped him off at college. He has moved beyond a mentee, and he is now simply my friend.