From being homeless as recently as five years ago, James Ward, of Los Angeles, will be attending Howard University in the fall due to a crowdfunding project, the Huffington Post reported.
"Homeless to Howard" is the name of the project launched last week by Ward to fund his education at the historically black college. With endorsements from Teach for America the rapper Common, he has gained enough funds for his first year.
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— Teach For America (@TeachForAmerica) August 9, 2013
Proud of James! I'm going to help. S/O to @sutherlandjm for helping guide this brother. http://t.co/TUlxHe8Jvq — COMMON (@common) August 9, 2013
"It's surreal," Ward, 19, said. "I can't believe after everything that's happened I'm going to be leaving to attend Howard."
He is collecting donations through PayPal and so far has raised $12,000, enough to cover tuition and fees after his grants and scholarships. The campaign will look to continue raising funds to cover an entire four years of tuition and fees.
Ward, along with his mother and two younger siblings have been in and out of several homes since he was 14. At the worst, the three children would live in his mother's car, while moving from shelter to shelter and various homes of relatives. They recently moved into a more stable situation in Feb. 2012, a place in the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles' Skid Row neighborhood.
"I would've never thought that something we started just a couple of days ago would've turned out to become this massive," Ward said. "However, it makes me feel very happy because I know that although the world may seem like a harsh and cold place, there are some people out there that care and want to give to those in need."
Ward has attended thee different high schools in four years, but graduated from San Pedro high school in June.
"In the past years, life has been very hectic," he said. "We had a lot of ups and downs, but through it all, I've always managed to keep my grades up and help my younger brother and sister do the same and keep them on the right track as well as myself."
Another person who knows what homelessness as a teenager is like has helped Ward make his dream come true. Jessica Sutherland, a junior producer at Yahoo! Studios, met Ward through the Union Rescue Mission and has been a major force behind the campaign.
"I was terrified, but I did it," she recalled. "I told all the kids that scars heal and you probably couldn't tell that I lived in a shelter like this when I was your age, and just tried to give them a message of hope and teach them to ask people for help."
Ward plans on studying to be an astrophysicist or genetic engineer, not knowing which he would rather choose. He said science has always held his interest in life.
His younger sister is 14 and entering high school and his brother is seven. Ward's mother recently became a licensed vocational nurse and plans on attending school for a bachelor's in nursing. If all three graduate on time, in four years, the Ward's will have a massively inspirational graduation party in 2017.
"[I'm] following my dreams," Ward said, "but it was never about me. It was always about my younger brother and sister learning that education is what they need, because as long as you have knowledge, no one can ever take it from you."