Opinion
Student Well-Being Commentary

A Once Homeless Teen Earned $3 Million in Scholarship Offers. Here’s What Made His Story Possible

Homelessness, an unlikely valedictorian, and the value of good public policy
By Jonathan E. Collins — June 02, 2019 3 min read
Tupac Moseley, who was homeless during his time at Raleigh-Egypt High School in Memphis, graduated as valedictorian and received $3 million in scholarship offers.

I swore I never wanted to hear the name “Raleigh Egypt High School” again. This was the promise I made back in the spring of 2007 as I confronted the reality that my life would never be the same. See, it was on that night, as a high school senior, that I sank into the back of a public school bus in Memphis, Tenn., after being eliminated from the West Tennessee Boy’s Regional Basketball Tournament—demolished by a far superior Raleigh Egypt ball club. It was in this moment I realized that I’d never play organized basketball again.

I hated Raleigh Egypt for delivering the inevitable. I hated their musty old gym where the game was played. I hated their rowdy fans draped in black and red paraphernalia stamped with Egyptian-pharaoh logos. I hated their “tough” reputation, their collective bravado in the face of risk and challenge, their pride that beamed through the blighted periphery of their campus.

His story went just according to the Action Plan—and he was not alone."

I found myself moving aside this embarrassingly superficial adolescent “trauma” this month, when reading the story of Tupac Mosley. Despite enduring homelessness, the 17-year-old managed to graduate as Raleigh Egypt High School’s 2019 valedictorian. As if that wasn’t enough, he earned more than $3 million dollars in college scholarship offers to boot. There it was again: that beaming light of Raleigh Egypt pride.

Mosley’s story has been discussed on a wide variety of news media outlets. But, what’s been just as interesting as his story is the explanation for how it all happened. During an interview on CNN’s New Day, Mosley was asked where his strength came from. He deflected personal claim, and instead replied, “I would like to give more credit to all of the people around me: all of the people at school, my family members, my friends. They have all been a great support to me over my past four years in high school.”

It was the Raleigh Egypt pride and bravado, yet again. But, there was more. If you dig deeper, you’ll find that the Raleigh Egypt spirit worked in partnership with something that Mosley doesn’t mention in the brief interview: policy.

In 2010, the Obama Administration launched “Opening Doors,” a strategic plan for preventing and ending homelessness. The plan itself was fairly simple. It helped forge intergovernmental collaborations and public-private partnerships, with the shared goal of increasing access to affordable housing. The plan also called for city and county service providers to put more resources toward identifying homelessness and providing support. The first service provider mentioned in the official plan? Schools.

Many cities responded positively to this strategic initiative. In Memphis, the city and county mayors came together at the end of 2010 to create an action plan to end homelessness, which listed as its second goal to, “Prevent and end family and youth homelessness in Memphis/Shelby County in 10 years.”

The strategy was to work smart. They looked at other cities and surveyed the evidence for what’s been successful elsewhere. They made lists of all of the federal resources available through welfare programs and wrote down plans for how to partner with local agencies like the Memphis Housing Authority and the Shelby County School District. They set specific goals for agencies to pursue alongside nonprofits, including to increase the number of emergency shelter options.

Mosley’s success story was made possible by that goal. After Mosley’s family lost their home in the wake of his father’s death, a nonprofit urban camping organization stepped in to provide them with shelter. His story went just according to the Action Plan—and he was not alone.

Nationally, chronic homelessness is down 26 percent from 2007; the number of children in families experiencing homelessness is down 23 percent. The state of Tennessee mirrors the national numbers, with a 23 percent drop in homelessness since 2010. This is what can happen when communities and governments work together to change lives for the better.

So, as we celebrate the improbable journey of Tupac Mosley, let’s take his advice and spread the credit. Let’s pay tribute to the vision of the Obama Administration, city and county heads, and nonprofit organizations who took the challenge to “Open Doors.” Let’s honor the friends and family who step in when a kid has nowhere else to go. Let’s give credit to communities everywhere that respond to crisis with the pride and bravado of Raleigh Egypt.

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