ELLISVILLE – Regardless of your background, family or status, Jones County Junior College’s keynote speaker, Jeremy Graham explained anyone can succeed with a commitment to work. Graham, a Hinds County Community College graduate and New Orleans native, shared his tragic life story of overcoming numerous obstacles at JCJC’s annual Black History program entitled, “When There is Hope”.
Hinds Community College student, Joshua Boyce (left) came to JCJC to hear his mentor, Jeremy Graham, the keynote speaker at JCJC’s Black History Celebration, speak about his struggles toward success.
“We had a happy family everything was peaches and cream, then one day my dad decided he was going to beat on my mother. They weren’t seeing on the same terms….and then he didn’t want to come home anymore. That played a negative role in my life because I went downhill after my parents separated,” Graham told the audience of mostly students.
That experience in middle school eventually led to his expulsion, joining a gang, becoming a drug dealer and dropping out of school by the time he was 17 years old.
“I told my mom I’m wasting my time because I missed about 60 days of school,” Jeremy explained. “There’s no hope for me so I’m going to drop out.”
Graham admitted to the audience that he wasn’t thinking about his future. He said dropping out led to running the streets and then Hurricane Katrina devastated his hometown.
“I decided to come back and make some money helping the cleanup effort. But instead of doing it the right way I took that hard earned money I was making and I got back into drugs and gangs….I had an opportunity to be free from it then but I didn’t take it,” said Graham.
His younger brother Jared wasn’t as fortunate. Graham explained his 16 year-old brother shot a rival drug dealer eight times in front of their home. He’s now serving a life sentence in Angola penitentiary on second degree murder charges.
“I want to tell ya’ll when you see a real murder happen right in front of you, it’s not like a video game,” Graham shared. “They cry, scream, they’re in pain and agony gasping for their last breathe. The guy died in a ditch in front of the house.”
Graham said he also agonized over losing his brother to the penal system. “I felt like it was my fault because I wasn’t being the leader like I should have.”
A Jackson minister, who offered some advice and guidance, changed Jeremy’s life. While living in Jackson post-Katrina, police were enforcing a curfew Graham didn’t want to obey. The minister witnessed the incident outside his house and warned Graham to be quiet. Graham was later arrested for disrespecting an officer and three other misdemeanors.
“I just kept saying nobody’s going to take me to jail. Before I knew it, I was in jail for 90 days.”
Graham told his peers, all he needed was one person to show him a different lifestyle. Finally, one person showed him how hard work and an education could be the key to Graham’s success. He admitted however, to failing his first attempt at college because he said he was trying to study girls. With no other option, Graham took a job as a window washer making considerably less money than dealing drugs. Those humbling experiences, he said gave him another shot at life.
“I met a lot of people who helped me and encouraged me. I started working for the English Department and they couldn’t believe I was the same person because I cut my dreadlocks, put on nice slacks and a button-up shirt…I was going to dress where I was going. I wanted to be successful,” a confident Graham boasted.
The reformed gang member and drug dealer improved his 1.5 GPA to 3.0 in three semesters, with a ninth grade education. Graduating just last December as a member of the international business honor society, Alpha Beta Gamma, Graham received a scholarship covering most of his tuition at Mississippi College.
“I want to encourage people there is hope and there is hope for each of us. To say there is not hope for anybody is like throwing that person away. There were too many people who threw me away,” said Graham.
Several JCJC students identified with Graham’s academic struggles, like Stephany Pickering of Raleigh. “He’s been through a lot and it’s amazing how he’s changed his life. I want to be a business woman and he’s inspired me to work harder and make sure I become the business woman I want to be. He’s doing great and I expect to do the same!”
With Graham as a mentor, HCCC sophomore, Joshua Boyce said he is overcoming obstacles in his path to success. “Graham’s an inspiration because he could have easily started pointing the finger at others and blamed them for his failures but he didn’t use that excuse. He chose the hard way, putting his problems behind him to climb to the top. That’s what makes him unique.”
Knowing how one person can affect another, Graham challenged the audience asking, “What are you going to do when you leave this place to beat the statistics of teen pregnancy, STD’s, jail, and being a homicide victim? I will not be a statistic because that’s ordinary. Be extraordinary. Go over and above and don’t be a victim of statistics.”
The JCJC Multi-Cultural Student Organization sponsored event included musical selections from Laurel High School’s Gospel Choir and the JCJC Voices vocal ensemble.