I’m not exactly sure who first coined this phrase, nor am I certain what picture they were looking at, all I know is this: if the events of this past year—the highs and the lows, the sunshine and the rain, the tears of sorrow and tears of unspeakable joy—could somehow be captured in one single photo, this would be it.
This photo embodies the strength, perseverance, and potential of 15 young men who didn’t allow their turbulent upbringing in the streets of Detroit to prevent them from attending college in Alabama. This picture truly says it all. And if you ask me, 1,000 words just isn’t enough.
When I look at this photo, one of the first words that come to mind is “connection.” Not only do I see these 15 young men, but I also see myself in them. The chords that connect us are indeed powerful. It’s not easily lost on me that not too long ago, I attended this very same university, sat in these very same classrooms and roamed these very same halls. Coming from a broken, fatherless home, virtue such as love, honesty, and hope was hard to come by. Oakwood University not only instilled in me these things but also gave me an excellent education. If Oakwood University could undoubtedly change my life in such a visceral and compelling way, who am I to say that these same changes can’t be made manifest in these 15 young men who are itching for a break in life?
Throughout this year, I have worked tirelessly with the Enrollment Director, VP of Finance and the President of Oakwood University to ensure that these students would get into college. Many people have donated their time, money and resources to make sure these students were not only able to attend college, but also have the necessities needed to succeed. Caught Up spent at least $7,000 paying off bills, taking students to Walmart, and providing transportation so these young men could have an opportunity that some young men of Detroit only could dream about.
Many people have asked, “Why does this random guy want to help so many young people? What is his hidden agenda?” While the constant questioning and criticism do affect me from time to time, I’m always encouraged by my mentees, who never question my intentions because they know my story and why I started Caught Up. They know that I grew up in an environment that didn't produce very many successful individuals. They know my story of losing friends to gun violence and the streets. They know that I turned down multiple job offers in other states to return to a city that many people thought was bankrupt and dead. I believe mentoring can be hard, draining and, more often than not, thankless. Not to mention accusatory, littered with ill-advised people making inaccurate assumptions, yet through it all here we stand...at the peak of my mentoring. This was supposed to be the best year to date. Changing 15 young men’s lives, not even counting the other students that I have helped get into college which has made this year an absolute joy. The majority of these young men did not qualify for scholarships and needed extra funds to get into school, but I was determined to keep fighting and make it happen.
I’m sure you could imagine the heartbreak, the agony, and the disappointment when a Huntsville Police Detective called me and stated something so clear that there was no room for misunderstanding, "Carvell Goodlow is dead,” he uttered. “I have several of your mentees that we are taking down to the headquarters to question because they were with him when this happened." You could imagine how I felt driving to his mother's house and having to knock on her door at 5:00 am and explain to her that the child I personally took down to Oakwood has now been killed. You could imagine how it felt having to plan a funeral for a young man that had so much potential, who should have become a preacher, an engineer, or a motivational speaker...a kid who would have made a substantial impact in this world.
However, what hurts the most is knowing that all of this could have been avoided if these young men were able to leave the hood mentality behind in Detroit. I was so naive to think that every young person would be like me and would jump at the chance to change their environment, their friends and make something better of themselves. I failed to realize that these individuals needed more support than ever. In some ways, I feel as though I completely failed them. I should have done more than college prep sessions showing them how to apply for scholarships and complete their FAFSA. I should have made sure that each one had at least one mentor down there. I thought to myself, “Maybe I should have listened to the naysayers when they made it clear to me these kids weren’t ready.”
Making matters worse was seeing several of the young men leave school, get suspended because of their reckless involvement in the situation, and the remaining young people struggle to find their academic footing. Many people have commended me on doing a great job and a lot of people reached out to me when I was going through the worst time in my life but for the past few weeks, I have struggled to come to terms with whether this type of pain and disappointment is even worth it.
I have spent countless nights literally crying and thinking of better ways in which our organization can change the lives of young men who need it. Recently speaking with one of my friends, I discovered that we should consider it a success that these young men are actually attending college and made it out of their environment. Many people think this work is easy, but it takes time, money, long nights, early mornings and heartache. It takes you being disrespected and challenged by parents who think you should do more or think you're too involved. It takes the confidence and brass of asking people for money on a consistent basis.
I look at this picture and I don’t see 1,000 words. I see a thousand other young men in Detroit who are in need of help, guidance, and hope and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who will fight harder for them than I will.
You ask me why I still do this work, and I will say to you simply: “If I don't, who will?”
Caught Up is seeking donations, volunteers to help support our program.