By Davone Banks, Special to the AFRO

“Your story may not have had the happiest of beginnings, but that doesn’t make you who you are. It is the rest of your story, who you choose to be.” When I first heard these words, they resonated with me in a profound way. I could relate because in a way it described not only my life, but also my time here at Year Up.

When I started out as a younger adult, I wanted to go the traditional route: attend a four year university, graduate and then get a career in my chosen field. However, life didn’t turn out that way. Sacrifices had to be made.

I dropped out of college after my first year. For the next six years I stumbled through life trying to find my way. I moved from place to place staying with friends and family. I worked night jobs with 12 and 14 hour shifts. Some days I would walk over 2 hours, both to and from work, because I had to pay bills and I didn’t have any bus fare. In what I thought was the beginning of my life, I wasn’t thinking about how to succeed; I was simply thinking about how to survive.

Year Up (Courtesy Image/Logo via Twitter)

I like to think of this time as a learning experience. Although there were struggles and hardships, I was able to learn about myself and about life. I learned responsibility, resilience and dedication. I learned about the value of hard work, and the value of a dollar. I learned about how difficult it is being an adult on your own, and how ill equipped I was to make it without the proper foundation. Hope was a seldom thought, it was something that I never let go of. The hope that one day things will get better. That’s what Year Up gave me. Year Up was my hope, my opportunity. Year Up was my chance for a new beginning.

To describe my Year Up experience in one word, I would call it transformative. I knew why I joined this program, and what I wanted to get out of it, but I never expected to grow as a person in such a way that I did. It was here at Year Up that I found my voice, my confidence.

I remember when we were just a few weeks into classes, and during one of our career development classes Mr. Emmanuel had everyone in the class share their experiences before coming here. I was actually nervous about sharing, because I was still getting to know my classmates and I was self-conscious about myself. But after seeing my peers be so open, honest and raw with their stories, I felt that I should be able to do the same thing, so I did. I felt empowered and relieved that I could express my thoughts with my peers in a judgment free zone. It was a huge personal victory and the first step in developing and growing as a person.

I challenged myself in different and creative ways. From public speaking, to being social with my peers, I felt blessed and lucky to be in a place that not only nurtured personal and professional growth it was the standard.

As young adults we all had a rough start, a not so happy beginning. Life got in the way of our plans. But when we came here, no matter what we were coming from we all made a commitment, a resolution, to better our lives. We chose to start over, to start on a new path in our lives. This was, and is, our genesis. And as we prepare to embark on our individual journeys, and carve out our destinies in this world, I know that we will never be alone. We have the bonds we made throughout our Year Up journey. We are a part of a movement that will never end.

Although your story may not have had the happiest of beginnings, that doesn’t make you who you are. It is the rest of your story, who you choose to be. So be someone great in your homes, in your communities, and in the world. Help your fellow man. Never stop working to achieve your greatest destiny possible, and in doing so, not only as individuals, but also as a connected Year Up unit. I am sure we will all leave a legacy that will stand the test of time.

Davone Banks is a recent Year Up graduate.