From negativity to positivity
Former foster child Dwayne Wescom graduates from Oakwood University after vowing to beat the odds
By Nadia Arandjelovic
When Dwayne Wescom calls himself a son of the system he means it in a good way.
The 26-year-old has been in the foster care system since the age of two. He recently beat the odds and graduated with a pastoral degree from Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama.
Although proud of the accomplishment, he believes it wouldnt have been possible without support from the community.
I believe I am a son of the system and there are only a few successful people that actually come from the system, Mr Wescom explained.
At my graduation they said only one percent of foster children in America graduate from college, so I am proud of my community and the people that believed in me.
I knew I had it in me I just needed someone or something to pull it out of me, that is what a lot of young people need. I believe everyone is really a diamond in the rough we just need to take time to find the diamond.
As a teenager, his future looked extremely bleak, Mr Wescom said.
He had been in foster care since he was an infant and was put out of his foster home at age 16 because of negative behaviour.
I was an extremely negative and disrespectful young man growing up. I was just rebellious to my core, he said.
When he entered the foster care system he was traumatised to discover he would be separated from his older sister, Mr Wescom said.
He developed a series of learning challenges when he reached primary school. He was held back in P1 and was at risk of being put into a school for youngsters with learning disabilities.
He was nine when his birth mother passed away from HIV.
Through my whole life I just had a negative perspective and always saw the glass as half empty and felt the odds were stacked against me, he said.
Mr Wescom credits his success to a handful of people in the community who provided guidance, mentorship and financial support.
Of note were his foster parents, Mary and Alfred Hayward, and their daughter Sharon who taught him how to read through the Hooked on Phonics educational programmes.
Mr Wescom said he was also grateful for support provided by Milton Richardson, the founder of De Boys Day Out Club.
He joined the programme in middle school and said it was extremely beneficial.
I am here today because of it. I think it did a few things, gave me friendships that have lasted forever, it instilled core values and I think most importantly it gave me opportunities through the club.
For instance I was able to represent Bermuda in 2007 at the National Youth Summit in Washington DC and from that I became the co-host of Youth Talk.
He said it also gave him a stronger religious foundation, as he would occasionally accompany Mr Richardson to the Seventh-day Adventist Church on Saturdays.
Mr Wescom said he started making some changes in middle school, but it wasnt until 2005 that his life really transformed.
During that time he saw the route some of his friends were taking; some were graduating from high school, others were dropping out.
I realised I am going to have to make this choice. At this point I had been living with my sister when I was 16. I wanted to have better for myself.
I saw how my father was, he wasnt really in my life and I felt he had his own struggles and whatnot.
He also learned he would have to take charge of his own destiny.
Through my life I was always waiting for a superhero or someone to fly in and save me and at this point I realised that would have to be me, I would have to save myself, he explained.
Others who helped were CedarBridge Academy basketball coach Rickey Watts, Acting Director of Communications and Information Dwayne Caines, mentor Craig Smith and spiritual advisers Reverend OBrien Cartwright, Douglas Tucker and Cheryl Kerr.
Mr Wescom said at one point in his adolescence he stopped going to church and was put off of religion.
But he now believes everything he went through was a way for God to prepare him and instil in him the desire to help others.
When I was searching for answers about God [Mr Tucker and Ms Kerr] were the two that helped me understand and gain a relationship with Him.
I consider them my spiritual parents. Also they both have sacrificed financially to help me get through school.
Various members from his Devonshire church also provided financial assistance.
I just made it through from people, that is why at the end of the graduation I was like we done it.
I knew it wasnt just me, there were a lot of times where people didnt think I would get through the challenges in front of me, but like Dori [from animated movie Finding Nemo] I just kept swimming.
When you see the picture of me at my graduation with the [Bermuda] flag in my hand, in my head I am saying We made it.
Mr Wescom is currently working as an intern at the Devonshire Seventh-day Adventist Church, alongside president of the Bermuda Conference, Jeffrey Brown.
He is to attend Andrews University in Michigan in the autumn and will be working towards two masters degrees, one in social work and another in divinity.
My ultimate goal is to have a youth centre or place where young people can go to just congregate in Bermuda, he said.
I want to give back to my community and empower people and becoming a pastor is one way I hope to be able to do that.
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