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From Dropout to Professor

Juneteenth Reflections and Simmons College

I was eighteen years old, living out of the trunk of my car and trying to complete school as a fifth-year senior after dropping out of high school.

I was depressed, felt like an outcast, a failure, and was unsure if I could complete high school after being labeled the term “fifth-year persister.”

But one night—long before I had a relationship with God—I said a prayer:

“I don’t know if you are real, but help me overcome this...and help me finish school...”

Not only did I finish, but 20-plus years later, I earned a PhD and have just been given my first appointment in the academic community as the Director of Public Policy and Social Change and Professor.

Being pinned Director and Professor in the Academic Community

I chose to share this on Juneteenth, a day that reflects our collective, enduring struggle toward freedom and honors the many ancestors who fought, sacrificed, and lost their lives so that I and others can stand in spaces unfiltered to share our brilliance.

This moment when I was named as a scholar and professor in the academic community was a testament that our collective strength runs deep in the veins of all those who are the legacy and fruit of the Black struggle for freedom.

It makes me reflect on the fact that Black is beautiful, powerful, resilient, strong, deep, and necessary.

At Simmons College, I will spearhead the “Open Doors Initiative,” the first program at an HBCU designed to create educational pathways for young adults navigating homelessness.

Giving my first lector as an academic in the Academy

This challenge is near to my heart and experience. This initiative will provide opportunities and advocate for systemic policy reforms.

Additionally, I will develop, design, and teach courses designed to inspire the next generation of thinkers and community change agents in Public Policy. These courses will equip students with the skills and knowledge necessary to effect meaningful social change in the community of Louisville and beyond.

In addition to my role at Simmons College, I will be traveling to Louisville, Kentucky, to engage directly with the community and policymakers while maintaining my critical leadership role at Love Beyond Walls in Atlanta, GA. At Love Beyond Walls, we are also working to expand our Dignity Museum, which will become an incubator for critical thought related to poverty and homelessness.

In stepping into this role, I carry with me the hopes of our ancestors and the responsibility to empower future generations. I am committed to bridging lived experience with academic research and policymaking, ensuring that our policies reflect the realities of those most affected by them.

As I always say, my life’s work and purpose is to wake up every single day and live in such a way that I contribute to creating a world where no one is invisible.

Order “Zion Learns To See: Opening Our Eyes To Homelessness” [HERE]

If you want to explore homelessness in the U.S., please consider reading “I See You: How Love Opens Our Eyes to Invisible People.”

Explore my book “When We Stand: The Power of Seeking Justice Together” to learn about the impact of community involvement and collective action on social change.

Discover “All God’s Children: How Confronting Buried History Can Build Racial Solidarity to gain insight into the significance of understanding the historical narratives that shape people and how you might stand in solidarity with your neighbor.

Or, subscribe to the Love Beyond Walls Newsletter—by visiting the site and signing up.

From Streets to Scholarship by Terence Lester
From Streets to Scholarship by Terence Lester