Final Project – My Digital Story

I fully acknowledge that I would not be where I am, or who I am today, if it were not for those generous individuals who’ve helped me along the way. Those individuals who throughout my entire life, have dedicated their precious time, and resources, and have significantly contributed to my personal well-being. Their contributions, however small or large they came, pulled me closer to the shores of my true potential, and further away from the rocky banks of despair and hopelessness. I’ve vowed to pay it forward, and dedicate my life to helping others the same way those individuals helped me. Therefore, I accepted the calling to become a social worker.

For my final project, I decided to create a digital story, outlining some of the struggles that I’ve encountered over the years, as well as some of the protective factors that ultimately saved my life. The reason I chose this project is because I wanted to open up, and allow myself to be vulnerable, something I struggle with even to this day. But also, to highlight the importance of having protective factors readily available in low income communities. These events no doubt have shaped my life in ways that I could not have imagined at the time.  This project forced me to look back upon the adversities that I’ve face, reminding me of why I worked so incredibly hard to get to where I’m at today. I have for many years, grappled with the demons of my past, and somehow concluded that forgetting would bring me peace of mind. However, this was never the case. But what I’ve realized today, is that because of where I’ve come from, I’ve been able to reach others that many could not. I realize now, that I indeed have a story that is worth telling, as we all do. This is the story of how I went from a G.E.D, to a graduate student.

I have for quite some time, been keenly aware of the social forces at work that contribute to social injustices. I am also aware of my privilege that comes from having access to higher education. Rather than taking the knowledge I will acquire out of my community, I plan to take it back and help my community. With a concentration in community organizing, and a minor in social policy and evaluation, I fully intend to create change on the structural level to increase the life chances of those within our communities. As one who has witnessed many of my childhood friends fall victim to the prison industrial complex, and as the older brother of 4 young black males, I believe it is my societal duty to fight for an environment in which they will be able to thrive and live meaningful lives.

I attribute much of my success to three interventions. Protective factors are probably a more accurate characterization. Those are; The Center for Occupational and Personalized Education (COPE), The Michigan Youth Challenge Academy, and lastly but most importantly, my family, specifically my daughter. Without the resources, the guidance, and support of these protective factors, my life very well could’ve taken a much different and drastic turn. Much of what I remember begins in my early teenage years. I believe that my upbringing in the church contributed greatly to my comprehension of social issues. Christian values such as loving your neighbor as you love yourself, and, defending the rights of the poor and needy, have always been central to my way of thinking. In fact, I’m certain that it was my faith, that has pulled me through so many trials and tribulations throughout the years.

However, despite most of my childhood being spent in the church, it was not enough to shield me from the ills of my surroundings. My family moved around quite often, sometimes every other year. It seemed as though we could never really get settled. Poverty for us was a normal way of life, or so it seemed. Both of my parents were hardworking individuals, but like so many other families in America, we were constantly one financial dilemma away from homelessness. In fact, there have been multiple times that I remember, where we were. The uncertainty of not knowing whether or not we would have a roof over our heads weighed heavy on my younger siblings and me. Members of our church family took us in, allowing us to stay with them until we found another place to stay. I will forever be grateful to them for their selfless acts of kindness and benevolence.  And although our family was split up at times, we remained close. Two of my younger brothers went to live with a close friend who helped to provide them with a sense of stability. They went on to be star basketball players at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Moving from place to place added a constant strain to an already sensitive situation. We ended up moving to an area where the public schools were predominantly white. I noticed immediately the difference in treatment that I received at these school versus what I was given in the predominantly black neighborhoods. The students of color received much less guidance and support from the majority white staff. There was a lack of resources for community based programs that would give us young people an outlet to express our frustrations. My grades in school began to decline, and I started to get into trouble. As I grew older, I began to hang out with people who I felt at the time, could understand where I came from. This for me was a coping mechanism, or so I assumed. I stopped going to school on a regular basis, and was charged with truancy at the age of 15. Now on probation, I was removed from my public high school and forced into an alternative school.

This alternative institution was The Center for Occupational and Personalized Education (COPE) in Ypsilanti, Mi. Described as the “last option” for struggling youth in Washtenaw County, the Center for Occupational and Personalized Education (COPE) began as a residential facility for high-risk, court-involved females, But as the county’s needs changed, it quickly evolved into a comprehensive program for 13- to 17-year-old students who were expelled from the county’s traditional school districts, sometimes for bringing weapons to school. The emphasis was on remedial education and skills training. It was at this alternative institute that I met a Principal/teacher/counselor named Nate Reid, who would change my life forever. For once, I felt that I was under the supervision of a teacher who cared for their students. It was the compassion, yet firmness, of this instructor that compelled me to do better, and be better. This forced me to look at life much differently.

Despite having to watch some of the students from the juvenile detention center walking to class in chains and shackles, the environment was one that was centered on love and tolerance.  Nate at times would pull me aside, and have real candid discussions with me about life, the importance of education, and where I saw myself in the next 10 years. Back then, I never conceived that I would one day use education as a tool to fight the hopelessness and despair that was so prevalent in our community. But Nate helped me to see the value in myself, as a young black male with a place in society.

I noticed a drastic change in my attitude about life, and my education under the supervision of Principal Nate Reid. It was at this institute that I learned of the Michigan Youth Challenge (MYCA), a military school that offers young people between the ages of 16 through 18 the opportunity to change their lives, and make a future for themselves. The Academy is a 17.5 month, two phase program. The program incorporates eight core components that encourage physical, mental and moral development. Still on probation, with the encouragement and support of my parents, Mr. Reid, and with the blessings of my probation officer at the time, I decided to enroll into this program. Undoubtedly, one of the best things that could have happened to me, was for me to be taken out of my environment, and placed into a new one where I could thrive. This may have been the longest 6 months of my life, but through this institution I was taught self-determination, and discipline as a young rambunctious teen.

This allowed me the time and space to mature and develop away from my old friends. I was also able to obtain my GED while in this program. The physical requirements were demanding, but even more so, the emotional strain was exhausting. Immediately upon our arrival, many of us quickly realized that our lives would be turned upside down. The fierce drill sergeants and their expectations of perfection, left us no choice but to shape up. The goal was to break us down mentally and then build us back up. We were also taught how to work as a team. Everything had to be done in unison, and under prefect uniformity. When one of us slipped up, we all payed the price. Over time, we learned that the only way to achieve our goals was to work as a team. We all arrived as individuals, and we left as a team, as brothers. Many of them I still keep in contact with today. Our drill sergeants became our mentors, some like father figures who offered us guidance and support during our residential phase. We attended vocational classes in the evening, and took G.E.D prep courses in the afternoon, after our physical training. While obtaining a G.E.D may seem trivial to some, for us, it was a major milestone in our lives. We left the program with a new sense of pride and hope for the future.

Upon my return home, I came to the realization that many of my associates had either been incarcerated, or ended up losing their lives. I lost some of my closest friends to what Dr. Cornell West would describe as the Nihilism in Black America. Particularly, I am speaking of the profound sense of psychological depression, personal worthlessness, and social despair so widespread in Black America. This to me was a wakeup call. I decided that education was the best alternative to prepare for tomorrow. So, I began to self-educate myself. To better understand the world around me, I immersed myself in books, eventually building up a small library. Influenced by authors, scholars, and public figures such as W.E.B. Dubois, Malcom X, Frantz Fanon, Septima Clark, Ella Baker, Karl Marx, Joe Feagin, Freiedrich Engels, Franz Boaz, Noam Chomsky, and Dr. Cornell West to name a few, over time I noticed that my awareness began to develop. Malcolm X once said that “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” So that is exactly what I did. I began to prepare for my future, using education as a tool to achieve my goals.

Today, I can proudly say that I have overcome many obstacles and setbacks. As a single father, a student, an older brother of 5 siblings, a mentor, a self-proclaimed social activist, a volunteer worker at various non-profit organizations, I am a living testimony that people can change, and thrive in an environment where resources are readily available. I may have given up long ago had it not been for the love and support from my family. But the arrival of my daughter in 2007, may have been one of the greatest factors that attributed to my personal and spiritual growth. I still believe she came to me in part of divine intervention. She has taught me things about myself that I could not see through my own eyes. Understanding that it is my duty to try to leave this world a better place for her, she has been a big part of my motivation.

I have dedicated my life to furthering my education in order to develop the tools necessary to recognize, and address major social issues in our society. I’ve become a mentor to young high school students, a tutor for those in impoverished communities, and an advocate for non-violent offenders in the criminal justice system. However, it is still important to acknowledge that community based programs are severely underfunded in impoverished communities. Instead of receiving services through community based initiatives, young people are pushed through a vicious school to prison pipeline, forcing them further into a relentless cycle of interactions with the criminal justice system. The Center for Occupational and Personalized Education closed in 2012, due to a lack of state funding. The MYCA faces similar challenges as they struggle to obtain enough funds to house cadets. As one who has personally benefited from these programs, I remain firm in my stance that community based intervention programs in impoverished communities should be a societal priority.

The theoretical framework that comes to mind is the ecological systems perspective. This outlook allows us to analyze the reciprocal relations between persons and their environments. Using this perspective emphasize the strengths and weaknesses in the transactional processes between these systems, and the people who interact with these systems. Social workers can be more effective in addressing this issue by placing emphasis on the importance of a community based program that could potentially alter the life direction of those within the community. This to me is just as important as education. We must make sure that people have the resources necessary to make their dreams a reality. By giving them the tools necessary to succeed, we ultimately increase the life chances of those who reside in the most marginalized and vulnerable communities. Now that I have given a brief summary of the issue, and how it has affected me, please enjoy the digital story that I have put together. 😊


504 Final Presentation Video








Analyzing the social return on investment in. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wilder Research:

Arndt, D. (2012, June 8). COPE’s final day: Teachers at alternative school reflect on program’s 41 years. Retrieved from Ann Arbor News:

Dudley, M. (n.d.). Community-Based Programs Work, But Not Without Funding. Retrieved from Youth Intervention Programs Association:




12 thoughts on “Final Project – My Digital Story”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your past while also creating an incredibly interesting and educational final project. I have no previous knowledge about the topics you discussed, so this entire project was a learning experience for me. I think that it is amazing that you personally went through all of these programs and are now choosing to pursue a career helping to expand these programs and bring recognition to them.
    While reading and watching your project, I could not help but think about how difficult it must have been for you to go through some of these experiences. Leaving to better yourself and then coming back to a number of your friends either being in jail or having passed away is something that no one should have to deal with, but a large number of people do. I can imagine that it would be difficult to share parts of your story like this, but by sharing you are bringing so much more attention to the problems.
    During your video portion, I really enjoyed the use of your personal pictures. I think it is amazing to read about where you started, and then see the pictures of how happy you and your daughter are. You attribute this success to the programs that you were a part of. If there is anyone to believe about the success of these programs it would be you.
    I am an interpersonal practice major and honestly came into this program with very little interest in the macro topics of community organization and social policy, but things like this project make me realize just how important these macro topics are. These community-level programs helped get you to where you are today and are obviously incredibly important. Without people fighting for these programs, other youth will not have access to these programs like you did. You brought a lot of attention to youth incarceration and how these kinds of programs are better for youth and better for the economy than juvenile detention centers. With this being the case it seems almost silly that so few people are willing to fight for community programs to help youth. I sincerely hope that you will be able to make a difference and keep and/or create programs like those that you attended.
    Again, thank you for sharing your stories. Learning about the experiences of others keeps this program interesting and makes it clear what we as social workers will be able to do to help people. You have already done some amazing things, and it seems like you are continuing on that path. I very much enjoyed reading and watching your story and will take what I learned with me through the rest of this program.


  2. Wow, really powerful and impressive project and presentation. It is clear that you put in a lot of work to complete this, as well as took a lot of risks in terms of being vulnerable and sharing your beliefs and values. It’s clear that you are a great activist and community organizer, I learned a lot from this presentation. I would love to connect some of the leaders I work with to you, they’ve been trying to figure out ways to develop a youth component to their organizing work. You would be an expert organizing consultant for them. Thank you for sharing your story, and pictures of your beautiful family!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. First, THANK YOU for being so honest and vulnerable and sharing your story with us. I resonate with a lot of the things that you have experienced and are now advocating for. I thought it was great how you shared your story to humanize the need for community based youth initiatives but also spoke to some of the research and facts of why this is so important. One of the things that resonated with me as I was reading your story is how you phrase your societal duty – to “fight for an environment in which they will be able to thrive and live meaningful lives.” One of the things I hear too often is that youth need to have basic necessities, that the most pertinent goal is to make sure youth have shelter, food, and clothes. These are definitely things everyone needs, but you raise something that I am also deeply passionate about, and this is providing youth with opportunities and environments where they will not only survive, but thrive and flourish. You did such a great job of describing how important this is and how beneficial it is for society and for the youth. Lastly, I just want to say how I admire your selfless work ethic, all the work that you have done and continue to do as a volunteer and advocate! In your writing, I could tell how passionate you are about these resources, but in your digital story I saw the happiness that this work brings you was a great reminder of why you accepted a calling as a social worker!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Josh- I know this isn’t directly related to your project but your daughter is absolutely adorable. I loved seeing the pictures of the two of you together. They really capture the bond you must share and how proud you are to be her dad. As for the substance of your project, I am so grateful that you shared this with us. Your story is incredible and I hope that you share it with as many people as you can while you’re changing the world we live in. Everything you said about giving our youth the resources they need is relevant and true. I loved that the MYCA was a program that gave students the skills that are helpful in becoming successful. We have all of the evidence we need to prove how much more effective these programs are than detention centers, we just need to change the policy and the mindset around what the larger society feels is appropriate for our youth. I really appreciate that you took your project even further to show the cost benefit of these programs opposed to detention centers. I would advocate for an entire overhaul of our entire system of corrections. Skills, rehabilitation, and support is crucial in helping people have a happy and fulfilling life. I really hope to hear your name in the future as someone who is leading the efforts to change our flawed system. Thank you again for sharing your inspiring story despite how difficult it was for you to be vulnerable. You have so much to be proud of.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This was awesome! Thanks for sharing your story and your beautiful family with us. I think a digital story was a super great way to do this. One of the reasons I wanted to pursue a social work degree in my macro policy practice was because of the ecological framework you cite in your post. I truly appreciate the feedback that social workers should push forward community-based programs, because you’re totally right, that is a form of education that is empowering and effective. I’m really passionate about the notion that it’s not up to us as social workers to enter a community and begin to dictate what is right and wrong and what works and doesn’t, but instead to be part of the journey where a community identifies and creates their own program based on their own needs and values. Thank you for giving me the space to reflect on that!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Joshua, wow. Your story is amazing and you are awesome. Not only do you reflect on your life with great insight and emotion, but also tell the story of how youth-based community programs support youth. In this story, you also raise awareness and motivation to support such programs. Very well integrated and powerful. I am so glad that we got to meet this semester and I hope that we will stay in touch in the future. I so want to see the great successes that you achieve in life and be able to say, yup, that was my student. Congratulations on an outstanding final project and wishing you only the best in your future!


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