From Skid Row to Howard University: A Homeless Teen’s Amazing Journey

James Ward is the first in his family to go to college, and vows he won’t be the last
Sep 17, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Shaya Tayefe Mohajer is TakePart's News Editor.

Getting into Howard University was a bittersweet moment for homeless teen James Ward.

Despite all the odds, Ward managed to get good grades and get admitted while living in the Union Rescue Mission on Los Angeles' Skid Row, but he was denied the loans he needed to go to the esteemed District of Columbia school.

It doesn't help that college costs are out of control. Tuition and fees are more than $22,000 a year at the historically black university.

Through crowd-funding and a $25,000 donation from JCPenney, Ward headed to D.C. this fall to start pursuing his degree in physics.

There are more than 1.7 million homeless youth in the United States. Many are exposed to violence, addiction and a broad spectrum of social ills that most children never have to cope with. The result is that few finish high school, and even fewer finish college.

Ward had to deal with a chaotic uprooting brought about by his mother's alcoholism, all while helping his younger siblings stay engaged and safe in LA's epicenter of homelessness, where drug use and violence are common.

"Being homeless isn't something to be embarrassed about, because it's not in your hands. It's just a circumstance, there's always a way out as long as you're willing to push through it," Ward said on The Ellen Degeneres Show.

Ward knows that there aren't many people who are able to push past struggles like his, but he has some advice: Don't try and do it all alone.

"As long as you're able to step out your comfort zone and take the initiative and ask someone else for help, there's always someone who is willing to help you," Ward said.