From Death Row, Drug Trading And Homelessness To Academic Excellence

by Duke Magazine

Growing with the dark side of life  towards the cusp of giving up to the seemingly ill fate of homelessness, drug peddling, and numerous social vices, but they were undeterred with the keen determination of brighten up their lives with a thirst for academic success.

These persons are evidently source of inspiration to other people lingering at the downcast of their lives.

Kirk Franklin

Kirk Williams

Williams was fortunate not to be an African American felon, but he was however dealing in drugs since age 14 as he was also homeless. He was pronounced dead at three occasions after being shot for shielding his sister from an attack.

It would have been an easy habit to get swayed away with the undignified acts associated with many ‘ghettos’ in Black communities, but Williams was resilient and resolute for a better life, not after when he dropped out of school and asked to pack out from home by his grandmother.

The rapper, who goes by the stage name Trembleduzzit, designed his fate to return back to school. Today, he holds a Master’s of Arts in Urban and Regional Planning  from the Jackson State University at the age of 36 with a 3.9 GPA.

 “To come from an environment where 98 percent of people have felonies around you, there is always a concern about being able to register for school and apply for financial aid,” Williams said.

Florence Nwando Onwusi-Didigu

Florence Nwando OnwusiDidigu

As an epitome of patience, and a survivor of the gruesome two-year Nigeria-Biafra war, Didigu now holds a doctorate fifty years later. 

The 73-year-old Nigerian in April graduated from Howard University with Ph.D. in communication, culture, and media studies, a program that trains students on understanding communication challenges within a multicultural world and addresses social justice inequities on a global scale.

The oldest of five sisters, Didigu’s titled her dissertation, “Igbo Collective Memory of the Nigeria – Biafra War (1967-1970): Reclaiming Forgotten Women’s Voices and Building Peace through a Gendered Lens”.

Anton House

Anton House

House today holds doctorate from Howard University, a historically black university in Washington D.C. after serving jail term for drug peddling charge.

Growing up in his teenage years in the 1990s, he was caught up in illicit lifestyle going about with gangsterism in the United States. House sold drugs. According to the Journal Times, House’s mother supplied him with “real drugs” to sell so that he wouldn’t be killed for selling “licked off Lemonheads crushed to look like crack.”

Living with the fear of being killed, the 13-year-old then got himself a gun. He wore bulletproof almost all the time as a protective measure. Growing up as a kid, House saw drug dealers in his Racine neighborhood living a life of affluence and he yearned for the same life. 

At the age of 15, House would be at a juvenile detention center, dropping out of High School at the age of 16. When he was 18 he went to prison for the first time. That was in 1998 for cocaine possession. And in 2001 he went back again.

While in prison, he was fortunate to read The Destruction of Black Civilization by Chancellor Williams, the book that had a great influence on Williams’ determination to become a scholar. Prior to his first encounter with the hands of the law, House said he was full of pessimism and a deal of bad influence on his friends, with an effect of luring them to jeopardy. “I’d try to corrupt them because I was so miserable myself,” he said.

After being paroled, House took hold of his life to re-design his fate by voraciously studying books on black history, philosophy, and other literatures. 

The former drug dealer hopes to serve as an example for young black boys and girls from Racine and across the United States. 

Ryan Matthews

Ryan Matthews

Mathews was 17 when he was to be convicted by the bias justice system in the United States. He was wrongfully convicted by being jailed for two years, and spent five years on Louisiana’s death row.

Mathews’ ill fate with the law began in April 1997, when man wearing a ski mask entered Vanhoose’s store and demanded money. Vanhoose refused and the man shot him four times and fled. With his mask off, the perpetrator jumped into the passenger side window of an awaiting car. The victim was a white businessman.

Innocent and despite no evidence linking him to the fatal shooting of the businessman, Mathews was found guilty by 11 white jurors and one black and sentenced to death at the age of 19.

Mathews would later be exculpated after an impressive investigation by William Sothern and Clive Stafford Smith of the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center.

Seven years after his acquittal, Mathews moved on with life to  recently graduate with a bachelor’s degree in applied arts and science from TWU in Denton, Texas.

Mathews’ story of perseverance would become a source of inspiration to his sister and mother, who would both return to school. “I am proud, proud, proud as I could be,” the sister Monique, who is now pursuing a Ph.D. at TWU said.

“So I decided to go back and pursue my Ph.D. because hopefully, I’ll be able to do some legislative work and get some of that wrongful conviction and reintegration legislation changed,” said Monique Coleman, Matthews’ sister.

Moreover, Ryan plans to pursue graduate school to focus on business. But he admitted he still feels bitter about his past ordeal sometimes.

“I am because of what happened, but I can’t because it would stop me from moving forward… I’m trying to be the best I can be,” he said.

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