What will it take to be successful at Year Up

From left: Ronald Shackelford Jr., Kimona Barnaby, Avonte Cannon, Nicholas Thompson, Lyric Tucker.

In the past few issues, we’ve written about local programs that help young people — many of them minorities — break the cycle of unemployment and find meaningful work. We’ve written about programs that work with Zip Code Wilmington, ProStart and Pathways of Delaware. And we wrote about Year Up, which recruits students from underserved communities to a program that combines a college education at Wilmington University with six-month internships at local companies.

It’s one thing to describe these programs. But we wanted to introduce you to the young participants, many of whom see this as their “last chance” to make their dreams come true. We will follow five of the new Year Up students over the next year and report back on how they’re doing. Those who tried college ran into what two of the students referred to as “bright shiny objects” (social distractions) or financial challenges and had to leave. In this first segment, we spoke to the students midway through their Orientation Week. These interviews have been edited for space and clarity.


NICHOLAS THOMPSON
Age 19
Downtown Wilmington
High school: A.I. duPont, 2017
Studying: Financial operations

How he got to Year Up: [Recruitment specialist] Emir Lake came to my church (New Destiny Fellowship) in November. I was working at the Hotel du Pont and making good money and heard about the internships. It made sense but I was comfortable with where I was. Later, though, a friend told me about their experience. We record our services, so I went back and found it and applied.

What does success look like? I further my education in terms of both corporate and life skills. I find a long-term career opportunity. And through this program, I beat the stereotype and stigma of being a young African-American male from the City of Wilmington — it matters; there are different expectations. You can be going to Harvard, but people look at the color of your skin and make judgments. I want to be the best version of myself.

What scares you about this program? Self-accountability and not falling into the same bad habits I had in school. I was a disruptive student. I got bored and goofed off and didn’t do homework. I did a disservice to myself. I can’t be lazy here. This is my second chance. To be honest, I’m not that scared. I don’t have a choice but to be my better self. These people (waves around the group) aren’t going to let me become that old version of myself. We’re not going to let each other fail.


LYRIC TUCKER
Age 20
Wilmington — Browntown
High school: McKean, 2017
Studying: Financial operations

How she got to Year Up: My mother works at Chase Bank and had friends whose daughters were part of the program. I had been bouncing around, working part time as a bartender, server, and in a library. I was trying to find my next step but wasn’t very motivated. I had gone to Penn State but left in the middle of my freshman year for both financial and personal reasons. I had always been a great student, but college is different. I met Emir at an information session and knew that was what I was supposed to be doing. I’m not very religious but it felt like a sign from God. I applied and put in my two-week notice.

What does success look like? I left school and was out for awhile. I have friends in the same boat. None of us had the tools. The financial part … it was an excuse for my failures. But lack of money creates doubt. I didn’t want people to know I was back. Success here means I can show people who I felt I failed that I didn’t. I can so do much more, and I don’t want all of this to be for nothing. I don’t want to let anyone down.

What scares you about this program? I have trouble staying focused, especially with math. I almost didn’t graduate because of math. There’s a lot of math and a lot of numbers. I don’t reach out for help to the people who support me. I need to slow it down, bring it back, and talk to them.


AVONTE CANNON
Age 22
New Castle — Simonds Gardens
High school: Delcastle, 2015
Studying: Java

How he got to Year Up: I learned about it from my brother, who was in the first class. My mother is unemployed. I was working two jobs (Unique Images and Eddie Bauer at the mall) and Carlos was working three. I didn’t finish the SEED program at UD — it really wasn’t for me and they didn’t explain all the requirements; all I heard was free tuition. I went to an information session, liked the idea of doing Java, and it was a done deal. I had promised my mom I’d get a degree and this was the way to do that.

What does success look like? It’s unspoken with my brother; I look up to him. We come from a bad location in New Castle — the Ave — we are ghetto-adjacent. I see him working three jobs to take care of us, wearing a suit and looking empowered and I want to be just like that. My brother looks like success when we step out. I want the Cannon brothers to stand out in a positive way.

What scares you about this program? Failure. My brother and mom are backing me, as are the people in their circles. It’s a good story, there’s hope. Nobody sees the Cannon brothers because we’re doing things the right way.


RONALD SHACKELFORD JR.
Age 23
Bear — Wellington Woods
High school: Conrad Schools of Science, 2013
Studying: Financial operations

How he got to Year Up: I dropped out of two other colleges (Virginia Commonwealth and DelTech) and had lots of odd jobs. I followed someone on Instagram who did Year Up in Baltimore and saw references to it on Facebook. My fiancée and I had a new baby. We were about to be homeless and unemployed and decided to go on a trip and figure out what was next. An hour before the flight, I had a seizure and dislocated my shoulder and tore my rotator cuff and was in Philly for five days for major surgery. We talked about this opportunity and decided to roll the dice. We’re both here and everything is riding on this program.

What does success look like? Going above and beyond. I was always a good student, taking the higher-level classes. But I fell short in college. I just couldn’t close. After internship, I want to go into philanthropy and get a job at Year Up, helping others like me.

What scares you about this program? Time management and prioritization. I’m going to be here from 9-5 each day, working at night 6-11 p.m., physical therapy three days a week, mentorship, and taking care of my son and my fianceé. There’s a lot to juggle. Juggling everything I am and then coming in here and putting on my game face and remembering my core values can be tough. I have to challenge myself every day to come out of my shell.


Kimona Barnaby
Age 22
New Castle (by way of Jamaica)
High school: William Penn, 2015
Studying: Financial operations

How she got to Year Up: After high school, I started at DelTech in engineering full time while also working a full-time job in corporate security. My grades dropped so I took a break and worked full- and part-time jobs. I completed the Wilmington Job Corps program as a certified nursing aide. A year later, I was bouncing between health-care jobs. I loved the work but it just wasn’t for me. By late 2018, I was applying for colleges for accounting and saw this online. I applied in November. Then I ran out of money and was praying for an answer. Two days later, they called and here I am.

What does success look like? I want to rise above it, no matter what is thrown at me. My grandmother (in Jamaica) passed away and it was devastating. (Fights back tears as her classmates console her). I didn’t want to do anything or talk to anyone. My grades dropped. For three months I was so down. I couldn’t go to her funeral. It just sucked. But success will mean I’m feeling stronger. If something like that happens again, I can get past it.

What scares you about this program? Turning assignments in on time. I’ll tell myself this looks too hard and I’ll come back to it later. I find that I often return to the work and it’s easy. I just have to get it done so I don’t have to come back to it later.

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