Demanding More From Life - Jeremiah's Story
Upon first meeting Jeremiah, you would never think that this smartly dressed young man wearing thin-rimmed glasses and a broad, welcoming smile is someone who taught himself how to sew. But as you soon discover, this self-proclaimed introvert (who lists Jeremiah G. Hamilton’s biography and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers as some of his favorite books) has a whole lot more to him than meets the eye.
Jeremiah first came to New Door Ventures in 2011 when he was 18 years-old. He showed up late and didn’t follow through on his application. Twice. But behind the scenes, Jeremiah was dealing with a wide, complex range of distractions; he had dropped out of high school, had problems at home, was struggling with substance abuse at 19 years-old, and had served time in jail.
Two years later, Jeremiah returned to New Door. Now 20 years-old and on his third try, he was finally accepted into New Door’s program.
THE PIVOTAL CHANGE
When asked about his sudden change in lifestyle, Jeremiah credits two wake up calls. The first was from his close friend, who was sentenced to life in prison – and the second was from his father, who was diagnosed with cancer and who Jeremiah cared for in his dying days.
“My friends were in New Door,” explains Jeremiah. “I went there just looking for money, to be honest. But then my ambitions changed. I always wanted to go to school, but didn’t know what for. My change had to do with the friends I was hanging out with… seeing friends take charge of their lives… I didn’t want to be judged for who I was in the old days.”
Jeremiah connected with a continuation school in the city and earned his high school diploma. Through New Door, he obtained a six-month internship at Ashbury Images, one of New Door’s social enterprises, making meaningful connections with people who later became friends and mentors.
It was the personal conversations, Jeremiah says, that were most valuable to him — that there were people he could talk to who actually cared and who would stay in contact even after the program.
Jeremiah’s case manager, Joel, worked with him to set goals for college, helping him to apply to several four-year HBCUs, including Morehouse, where he is attending this fall.
“Joel and Kelsey [staff at New Door] made me feel like a human. They just… talked to me… and listened. A simple relationship, like ‘hey, let’s get a burrito,’ you know?” shares Jeremiah.
Around the same time, Jeremiah enrolled in Alive and Free, a college readiness program provided by the Omega Boys Club. This combination of services was instrumental in Jeremiah’s life.
“I had a whole network of support around me,” says Jeremiah. “I learned how to hold a job… articulate myself… tame my emotions to be professional… I also learned how to be humble,” he continues. “New Door helped me respect myself and have dignity.”
Despite his successes over the last four years, life is anything but easy for Jeremiah. The reality of transitioning from a life on the streets is that Jeremiah now works four jobs, yet makes a salary just slightly above the Federal Poverty Line.
“I could make so much money as a dope dealer… [now] I’m working my butt off, and I’m still coming up short,” says Jeremiah. “Sometimes, it feels like you’re in a trap and you can’t get out.”
Being accepted into a prestigious university isn’t devoid of challenges either. “I’m leaving everything behind,” he confesses, when asked about moving to Atlanta. “It can be super lonely… [I] might have to abandon people and all [I’ve] ever known.”
Still, Jeremiah stays focused on his goals — and he offers encouragement to those like him who are struggling to make better lives for themselves.
“This is not about the ability to work hard,” Jeremiah says adamantly. “This is about opportunity.” And many of his opportunities, he says, came through the support of programs like New Door.
This fall Jeremiah will start his first semester at Morehouse College, majoring in sociology. With a strong passion for his community and for helping others, he looks forward to pursuing a law degree.
“My circumstances,” says Jeremiah, “made me more humble… helped me realize where [I] came from… made me want to change policies and make a bigger impact.”
In his wallet, Jeremiah keeps his aspirations written on the back of a tattered receipt. “Jeremy owns his own law firm,” it says, scrawled above his desired salary and the number of employees he hopes to manage someday — and based on his accomplishments in the past two years, there is no doubt that Jeremiah is well on his way to actualizing those dreams.