Tory Ridgeway, in uniform, in front of a home.

Tory Ridgeway was accepted to Embry-Riddle on a full Navy scholarship, however, the Navy revoked the money after learning of support he received for autism. (Courtesy Photo)

By Micha Green
D.C. and Digital Editor

Tory Ridgeway has overcome many challenges over his 18 years, including bullying and battling autism.

“Tory is an 18-year-old high school graduate, he is an honors student, has always been an honors student, he is an eight-time Carson scholar, he was an Eagle Scout at age 14, he speaks French almost fluently, clarinet player, he’s just an all-around neat kid. Tory was diagnosed with autism when he was four, and he has been getting support, we’ve provided all the supports, to help him throughout his school, and because of those supports, he has been successful, he has embraced his individual difference. He has not allowed the disability to get in the way of his individual success, he has overcome so many obstacles in his life,” the 18-year-old’s mother, Vanessa Ridgeway said on AFRO Live.

The young man used his trials as a drive to help people like him make friends, grow and be successful, through such avenues as his Eagle Scout project, where he created “buddy benches,” or when he exposed other students with autism to helpful resources for academic and social achievement.

Ridgeway had dreams of serving in the armed forces after spending a great deal of time on Andrews Air Force Base with his father, however, due to poor eyesight, his pilot dreams were cut short. Nonetheless, in Ridgeway fashion, he persisted as a member of JROTC and explored other careers related to aviation- thus developing a passion for aeronautical engineering.

Ridgeway learned of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and went through the entire process of applying for acceptance into the institution as well as the many steps and interviews to receive the Navy ROTC scholarship. In his application and follow up interview, Ridgeway was extremely transparent and disclosed he had autism and even how he’s been able to use the difference and overcome it, in order to be successful.

When the 18-year-old learned he was accepted into Embry-Riddle with the Navy scholarship he was ecstatic. His hard work had finally paid off. However two weeks later he received news that completely stole his joy.

“He earned that scholarship, it was not given to him. He earned it. He earned that place, and then two weeks later, we received a letter from the Navy, saying that he did not qualify because he was a child with autism,” Ridgeway’s mother said.

“They also told us things that we didn’t know, that he had these ‘disorders,” she added. “I’m his mother, he’s never had an educational or academic ‘disorder.’ He had supports to make him successful, that doesn’t equate to a disorder. And medical disorder? He doesn’t have a medical disorder. It’s a blessing when our children can clearly say, I’m under stress, I feel intimidated, I don’t want to go to school, can I talk to someone? That doesn’t mean he has a mental disorder, that means he’s a smart kid and knows where to go and get help.”

After reading of these unknown conditions articulated by the Navy, the Ridgeways, especially young Tory, were confused and heartbroken by the news of the revoked scholarship.

“I cannot put into words how devastated Tory was. We all are as a family, but my child was totally, totally crushed. His spirit- he felt like he wasn’t good enough. He felt like everything he had worked for was in vain- was just worthless- like they didn’t care he worked so hard. Like this whole Navy, there’s not one place for me?”

Despite the disappointment, Ridgeway said that her son isn’t giving up. When Ridgeway spoke to the AFRO on her behalf of her son, Tory was in Illinois at Embry-Riddle for a “new student indoctrination,” which is like a four-week boot camp for ROTC students – despite losing his scholarship.

“He’s in week three, trying so very hard, folks. I want you to know he has not given up his dream, even though these people, this Navy, has sent him this letter,” he said.

Mother Ridgeway and Tory’s advocates haven’t given up either. She has written to her Congressman, who has sent letters to the Navy on the family’s behalf. She said they will not give up without a fight, because even if her son doesn’t get the scholarship back, he will still attend Embry-Riddle, proving the Navy’s decision wrong, and working to open doors for other students with similar cases.

“We’re doing this to bring attention to anyone who may be going through this, or may go through it in the future. If it doesn’t work for Tory, let’s do what we can to help it get better for everyone behind him,” Ridgeway said.

Currently, the Ridgeways are appealing the Navy’s decision and hoping for a medical waiver so that he is able to receive his full scholarship. The concerned and passionate mother also explained that there needs to be amendments to the entire system so that her son’s scenario doesn’t happen to any other students or families.

As of now, the Ridgeways continue to be in communication with the Navy as they send messages implying that Tory Ridgeway’s case remains under review. However, this reporter has seen the message threads and the correspondence is confusing at best, with implications to the Ridgeways regarding assumed financial concern, saying that if money is a problem they could consider a less expensive university.

Despite feeling discriminated against, Ridgeway emphasized that this is bigger than her son, who will be attending Embry-Riddle scholarship or not.

“Let’s change this process. There is a flaw in the process. If you have a child with autism that makes it through, not one, not two, but three levels and earns a full scholarship- earns it- it’s so mean. It’s so mean to send a child that letter,” the mother emphasized.

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Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor