Gateway Graduate, Movement Leader

Monday, April 11, 2016

Tekoa Hewitt stood in front of a room of hundreds of people at the Ready by 21 Conference in Baltimore last week. He told the audience about how he lost his twin brother as a teenager. He fell into a deep depression, dropped out of high school at 16, and lived on his own in a crime-filled part of Flint. He spent nearly two years working at a pizza shop, but realized that he needed education to change his trajectory. 

"I couldn't continue to live like this every day – the same poverty, the same violence, the same lack of opportunity,” he said to the crowd. “So I decided to enroll in Gateway to College, an amazing program where I earned high school and college credits." 

Tekoa is a recent graduate of Gateway to College at Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan, and is currently in the honors program at the college. As a member of YouthBuild’s National Council of Young Leaders, Tekoa often speaks about his pathway to reconnecting with his education. 

At the Ready by 21 Conference, Tekoa spoke about how organizations can better meet the needs of out-of-school youth. “I think the way a lot of people like me can recover is by knowing there are supportive people in the community that do want to help people like me, and provide the support that is necessary for young people to escape poverty.” 

Programs like Gateway to College have the power to change lives due to the staff of caring adults who recognize the potential in every young person. “Somebody telling me that ‘You are better than this, you can do more with your life,’ it's really important and that's what you get through a lot of these comprehensive programs. That’s what I got from the Gateway to College program,” he said. “‘You can be more than what you have been,’ they said, and they pushed me to be the best person that I can be. For that I am grateful.”

For a student like Tekoa, an alternative pathway to education allowed him to overcome personal obstacles and recognize the unique skills he possessed. "Maybe not everybody has a college degree, but everybody has skills that can make them productive in society,” continued Tekoa. “There are a lot of individual traits that we all have that if someone can recognize that, it can make a difference in young people’s lives.” 

As he ended his remarks to the room full of leaders, he thanked everyone in attendance for the work they do. “We rely on you. The work you do changes lives.” Tekoa plans to change lives, as well, by attending graduate school and using his education and experience overcoming poverty to impact youth in need. Tekoa is already making a difference by mentoring new Gateway to College students who are transitioning back onto a pathway to a high school diploma.  

Gateway to College was transformative to Tekoa. “I can't believe the person I was then became the person I am now.” Tekoa is paying it forward by transforming the lives of young people and the caring adults who serve them. 

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