“The NADC Grant was more than financial, but a gift of hope. It allowed me to prepare, take the required tests and get accepted to Graduate School, a feat that would have been impossible otherwise. I plan to graduate from Azusa Pacific University in the summer of 2021, with my M.A. in Art Education”.
The first time I ever walked on the USC campus, I was collecting recyclables with my father. A decade later, I attended USC on a full academic scholarship, graduating at the top of my class from the School of Fine Art & Design. I could have made every excuse to fail, but I turned my obstacles into strengths and created art from adversity. I have always chosen to live a life of contribution; continually looking beyond my own reflection with a willingness to serve. As a first-generation low-income minority student with a disability, I have never let the circumstances I was born into, dictate who I am. In fact, it is because I was continually challenged that I built an unbreakable passion for the Arts, specifically Art Education and Creation.
Mark Twain once said, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” For me, education is freedom, and a way to continually learn new and exciting concepts that allow me to grow as an educator and a person, while learning to apply them in my life and in my career; a career I never want to retire from. Currently, I have started my Masters in Art Education at Azusa Pacific University (1 of only 2 such programs in the Nation), where I anticipate to graduate in the Summer of 2021; however, my education will not stop there. I plan in the next year, to apply for my MFA at UCLA and Stanford and hope to attend after my graduation from APU, in September of 2021. None of this would be possible without the support of the NADC at UCLA. For the first time in my life, I had the freedom to research, explore, prepare and apply for more institutions and begin progress on my portfolio. Their unwavering belief in me and in my work, allowed me to continue this journey with confidence, strength and a renewed hope to fulfill, unfulfilled dreams.
For me, failure is an opportunity for growth, and even though I had nothing, I gained everything. As a boy, I was stigmatized by the teachers because of my disability, and was literally placed in the corner of the classroom and was told, “You are a waste of my time, you will never be anything”. Compounded by the fact that I was raised in a physically and mentally unstable home, I had no semblance of a normal life. With my mother dealing with depression and my father unknowingly dealing with an undiagnosed illness of Borderline Personality Disorder and PTSD, I know first hand the effects of untreated mental illness. My fathers abuse escalated from verbal to physical, with him leaving me unable to sit at my desk for many school mornings. But the words lingered more than the bruises, as I was told by my father many times, “I don’t like you, if you were not my son, I would not even talk to you”. Most nights we had little or nothing to eat, often bathing with a garden hose and no adequate warmth. Then on my 16th Birthday we became homeless, living out of a trailer; I was alone and had to fend for myself. I could have been angry and bitter, looking to take the easy way out by joining a gang, self-medicating or taking out my anger in violent acts; but I didn’t. Forgiveness became my most powerful weapon. In this chaos, I chose to live a life of honesty, humility and developed a true hunger to change the world in my own unique way. I feel blessed, not burdened with my illness, as I turned all this negativity and channeled it into many positive causes.
My life has been a journey fought with honor, and I am grateful for these challenges. I often pray, asking for help and guidance; not to take these burdens from me, but to give me the strength to overcome them. Because of this, I have been a person of action, for example just one of my many accomplishments is my work with NAMI. I was a Vital Part of starting two programs: “Parents and Teachers as Allies” and “Ending the Silence”. A bold and revolutionary program whose mission was to advocate for those with mental illness and stigma prevention, as well as a program to prevent Suicide. Over this decade, I have made over 100 speeches to more than 10,000 people, sharing my personal story of struggle and survival; giving hope to those without any. I am happy to say that both programs are now nationwide and have significant government funding. They even adopted my slogan, “Compassion over Stigma”.
Lastly, I know I will always have to manage my Bipolar Disorder, OCD, Anxiety Disorder and Dyslexia; but, I can choose to be more than my Illness. I accept that I will always be in some sort of mental or physical pain; this will always be my life, and I will always work hard to rise above it. I may have found what I am most passionate about later in my life due to this illness and my socioeconomic upbringing, but I feel as if my life has just begun. I plan to start my own non-profit, with its primary focus on using Art Therapy for those afflicted with mental illness. This vocation is a lifetime commitment, to lead by example with an unwavering commitment to always put others before myself. But in the end, I will always be a dreamer, once broken, beaten and abandoned; yet I truly believe, “A fallen Tree Serves a Greater Purpose”, and I am that fallen tree, leading others over the current.