Students Rising Above was key to my success
by Tyré Ellison
My life seems like a dream come true.
Growing up in San Francisco’s Sunnydale public housing as a young Black man, I often wondered whether I would live to see the age of 21. When I was 15 years old, my cousin was murdered two days after his 19th birthday. In addition, a number of my friends were gunned down before the ages of 21. Many others went to jail.
This is the type of environment I grew up in which is similar to many other young Black men around this country. Many grow up in poverty and struggle to survive. Many often fall victim to the cycles of poverty, lack of education, unemployment, being incarcerated, being involved in gangs, being raised by single parents, lacking positive male influences and leaders, lacking confidence and self-identity that can extinguish the light of hope.
Imagine being in a situation where you were running for your life dodging bullets from an unknown car passing by near your home. Imagine hearing gunshots and sirens every other night. Imagine seeing people who abused drugs sit in the park where you were supposed to play.
At times, I often believed what I saw around me. I thought I had no future because everyone I knew around me was being taken away from me. My friends were taken to jail. My friends were being killed.
I don’t know too many people from my community who have gone off to college and received a degree. Not only went out into the world to make something positive for themselves, but also came back to the community to give back and help others climb up out of the depths of despair to a brighter future of success to better themselves and their families.
This is my life story. I am not perfect. I struggle just as much as anyone else. I fear failing in life. My experiences and desire to change have helped me persevere through my obstacles.
Today, my life couldn’t be more different. I am living my dream. I have a degree in social welfare from UC Berkeley. I played Division 1 footabll for the California Golden Bears as a defensive back and on special teams.
I have volunteered my time towards inspiring youth in my community. I received many awards such as the Frank Schlessinger Coaches Award for football at Cal, given to the player with athletic and academic abilities, who’s dedicated to community service.
I have a great church home at Restoration Bible Community Church in San Francisco. I have great support and love from family and friends and from my fraternity brothers. I want to someday further my education and go to graduate school and start a nonprofit that’s youth-centered helping inner city kids gain access to opportunities that will empower them. I want to help provide change.
I may feel like I’m living a dream, but I also understand that I cannot become too satisfied. There is much room for improvement and more goals that need to be reached. I have to continue to grow and develop so that I can be an effective leader for my community and family.
To the youth and those who are reading this article, I hope my story inspires you to dream big. Again, I am not perfect and am no different than you as a person. I have my challenges in life as well. I just encourage you to continue to have faith and continue to fight for what you believe is right for you.
I also want to encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and help others by pulling them up as you climb toward your successes. Never believe that life is impossible. Instead, take the word “impossible” and dissect it. The word “impossible” dissected says “I’m possible.”
You are possible to do anything and everything you place your mind to. Continue to have confidence in yourself. Continue to be determined. Continue to embrace and surround yourself with positive influences and resources that can help make a difference in your life.
My supportive family
I was fortunate enough to have a supportive family while growing up in Sunnydale. My Mom and Dad have always been hard working people who wanted a better life for my brother and sister and me. Despite our financial circumstances they provided us with what they thought would be best.
They struggled to make ends meet, but always made sure we had food in our mouths, a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs. They made sure they were a part of their children’s lives by not neglecting us, but loving us. They wanted to see their children be something positive and achieve what they may not have had the chance to achieve. My parents exposed me to extra-curricular activities such as sports which allowed me to flourish and gain more confidence and other life skills.
My parents also stressed education a lot in my household. My brother and sister and I were not allowed to have any type of fun unless our academics were handled first. My parents also advised us to not be silent and to seek help when it was needed.
I struggled in school some, but whatever I struggled with I was sure to ask for assistance from my teachers so that I could do well and understand what was being taught. Eventually this value of education influenced me to excel academically. I soon developed a desire to want to go to college.
Students Rising Above – Thank you
In my junior year at Burton High School in San Francisco, I was advised by one of the college advisors, Annette Dennett, to apply to an academic scholarship program named Students Rising Above, a nonprofit in San Francisco that helps disadvantaged high schools kids go to college. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that they accepted me into the program. It made all the difference.
SRA has helped me in so many ways. Not only did they help me through my entire college application process and applying for financial aid, they served as a reminder for me to know I have support and that I should continue to fight for my dreams. I remember applying to UC Berkeley and being denied the first time. I was advised by Barb Hendricks, student program director for SRA, to appeal.
I appealed my application to UC Berkeley and got accepted the second time. From this I learned anything in life doesn’t come easy. Anything worth having is worth fighting for – and I was willing to fight for my education.
They also gave me much more – the support and guidance I needed not only through the initial process, but all the way through until I got my college diploma. They helped me throughout college by providing tutoring, workshops, connecting me to paid internships and jobs, and assisting me financially to purchase books and food.
SRA helped expose me to college. Without SRA, it would have been very difficult for me to afford to stay in college and graduate on time.
During my senior year of college, when I was ready to graduate later in the year, I received one more amazing honor: I was the undergraduate speaker for the Social Welfare Commencement.
I told my graduating classmates that success requires unrelenting focus, faith and hard work. It also takes preparation. And that everything is possible if you want it and allow yourself to be helped by good people. If I can do it, so can anyone. Now it’s my turn to help others along the way.
For more information, go to studentsrisingabove.org.