James Ward, a Los Angeles native, grew up homeless, but conquered all odds and is currently attending Howard University.
Imagine being 17-years-old and homeless. At an age when most are worried about prom, James Ward, 19, was worried about protecting his mother and two younger siblings. However, through his struggles, Ward was accepted to and just completed his first semester at Howard University.
Ward was born in Inglewood, but grew up moving throughout Los Angeles County with his family. At times, the family even lived in their car. During his 11th grade year at Dorsey High School, Ward and his family moved to the Union Rescue Mission in San Pedro, which Ward says is the first time he had a stable home.
“I’m grateful for the Union Rescue Mission,” said Ward. “Most shelters wouldn’t accept me because I was too old, but my mom always made sure that our family was always together.”
While Ward’s mother wasn’t as financially stable as most, she always pushed education and told Ward from a young age that he would go to college. Ward attended many schools throughout Los Angeles County, including Audubon Middle School, Dorsey High School and San Pedro High School, from where he graduated. Along with encouraging college, Ward’s mother also made sure that he stayed out of trouble.
“I was very sheltered,” said Ward.
“I was always locked up in the house and I couldn’t stay after school with my friends because the mission served dinner at 6.”
The most difficult part about staying in the mission was time management, says Ward.
“The mission was very rowdy until about 10:00,” said Ward. “So by the time everything calmed down and I finished my homework, I was able to get some hours of sleep and had to get up for the next morning to shower at my grandparents’ house.”
Even with his circumstances, Ward never lost motivation to attend college. After being accepted to Howard University, Ward was excited, but realized that he wasn’t able to afford it. However, Jessica Sutherland, Ward’s mentor and a volunteer at the mission, started a Tumblr page to raise money for Ward to attend Howard University.
The Tumblr page became an overnight success and Ward has since been featured on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and received thousands of dollars in scholarships.
“It’s amazing to know that there are people out there who don’t even know me, who care enough about my education to take money out of their own pockets,” said Ward.
Since being at Howard, Ward has decided to study physics. In the future, he wants to attend graduate school and work in genetic engineering or astrophysics. Ward has also joined organizations on campus, including the Gentlemen of Drew Social Club, the Aaron Bonner Foundation, and the Freshmen Leadership Academy, which takes Howard University students to China every summer.
“I just want them to know that there’s a way out and that being homeless is nothing to be embarrassed about,” said Ward when speaking about his advice to other homeless children. “No matter how embarrassed you feel, there’s always someone willing to help you.”
Sutherland, who was also homeless as a child and pursued higher education, is in the process of creating a nonprofit to raise money for homeless children to attend college.
For more information about how you can contribute to Ward or information about the nonprofit, go to homelesstohoward.tumblr.com and homelesstohoward.com.
Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel