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The Dreamers

Shafton Greene

I’m the only person not in that Dreamer photo from the first day. But for some reason, I just feel like, I don't know, man: I feel like I'm the Dreamer. I’m the one they made that program for. For real! Even though I wasn't even in the country when they came up with this. I’m not sure how it all worked out, but one guy, he had dropped out of the program and they needed to fill a space. So, my first day—just off the plane from Trinidad—I was the lucky guy. And it was one of those things that was a once-in-a-lifetime shot, because this program really changed my life. And it wasn’t just: Oh, finish high school and you go to college, they pay for it, and they leave you alone. They nurtured us.

I’d left my whole family to come live with my aunt in DC. I grew up real poor. My mom has 10 kids, and we weren’t in school, we dropped out. But we were always business-minded, you know, my mom used to make pillows to sell and we’d make those little ornaments. We used to go knock on doors and sell them to make money. You know, because it’s so embarrassing to have to beg the neighbors for something to eat.

I feel like I was just chosen to be there at that time. I mean, it was a million-to-one for me to come to America. It was a million-to-one for me to get into the I Have a Dream program. And I took it and I soaked up everything that they gave me. I'm really blessed to know these people. Mrs. Rumbarger brought us into her house. We went to her cabin. We went to trips. We've seen Mr. Bainum's jet—I got pictures with Mr. Bainum's jet where the Dreamers are just chilling, you know? And we’d go to Mr. Bainum’s farm every so often and fish. And the way Mrs. Rumbarger teach, I'm telling you, it was amazing. Because she would break it down, and by the time she's finished with you, you're going to understand. And that's how I teach my kids now. 

It's one of those rides that it just keeps on going, because there's been a lot of times that I wouldn't have made it without the I Have a Dream foundation, without Mrs. Rumbarger and her family and Mr. Bumbaugh; I’m so grateful to everybody who played a role. And it's sad to see that other people who are less fortunate than us, that they'll never experience this. You know, they'll never camp. They'll never make fire. They'll never fish, you know? In the inner city. I wish a lot more people could have more experience, you know, being out of the community. It was one of the things that really saved my life, I think. You know, because I lived in in the middle of Anacostia. And it was crazy back then. It was so violent. You step on somebody's shoes, you know, they'll kill you.

I even got beat up one time at Eastern, and got my jaw broken. I have surgical steel in my face, yeah. And it was a trying moment. It was one of the moments, I'm like, Okay, it's time to do something. And after that, I was in Mrs. Rumbarger's class in the basement one time, and Wilberforce University, which is up here in Ohio, came in and they said, anybody want to fill out applications, and we'll get back with you. And I said to myself: The first college that accepts me, I'm outta here.  Well, Wilberforce sent me an acceptance, I was out; I'm going here. A matter of fact, they sent me up here before I even went to college for their summer program. I think Mrs. Rumbarger brought me to college. I've been up here since then.

I'm a reflector person. I like to sit down, just reflect on my life. And I've been through a lot of good things. And I've been through a lot of bad things. So has everybody. But I'm very fortunate to have been married 18 years. I have four beautiful kids. I’m at a point now where I’m doing okay. I’m not rich. And if I was rich, I would do the same thing. My business is actually full-time. I have six guys that work for me, so my business kind of runs itself. Landscaping, snow removal, trees, patios, pavers, blacktop, and excavation. And I’m also a kitchen manager at the Cheesecake Factory. I also created a landscaping program for ex-offenders coming out so they can be self-sufficient. So now, I’m working my business and my job, and I’ve been working for six years on creating a nonprofit organization called Pebble in a Pond, to help more at-risk people. It’s going to be one pebble, my group, making a big wave—changing people’s lives. I want to help a lot of people, a lot of kids.

Because if it wasn't for the I Have a Dream program—I'm not saying I would have never went to college. I'm not saying I would have never did this. But it had a big impact on my life. It seems like that’s what made me almost the person I am today. They were family to me. It wasn’t just a teacher. It wasn’t just a mentor. They wasn’t just a person to feed you or go get money or do this or do that. They were family. I love Mrs. Rumbarger like a mom. I love Mr. Rumbarger like a dad; they took me into their house. It just made a difference in everything that people cared. You know, someone cared to say, Hey, let me start this program. So, I thank him so much. Mr. Bainum gave us the dream.

And that's what I want to do, too. I want to show my son, my family, that it's not about fancy shoes. It's not about the electronics. It's about people. Helping people. And when I'm standing in front of God and mama at the gate, He ain't even got to read it. He says, "Child, because of what you did, come on in."