When Kevin Brooks boarded a bus bound for Texas in 2015, he had no idea what lay ahead for him. After being homeless in Washington, D.C., though, he was ready for a change.
Originally from Jamaica, Brooks immigrated to the U.S. in 1989 when his grandmother, who raised him from the time he was six months old, fell ill. She knew she could no longer take care of Brooks, so she made sure he got to New Rochelle, NY to live with family. By the time he was 17, he was living on his own.
Restless and needing a change in scene, he moved to D.C. in 2001. He got off the bus and had nowhere to go. “I left the bus depot and sat under a bridge. Slept there for about a week,” said Brooks. “It was winter — not a good time to be outside.”
Eventually, he landed a job and got an apartment. Two years later, he started attending a well-known, four-year, for-profit university. “I bought the hype. I should have gone to community college,” he said. “I wasted a lot of time.”
Brooks lost his financial aid due to erroneous advice from an advisor, who told him to apply twice in a year for more money.
He then lost his job, which meant Brooks was unable to make his student loan payments. He was only 27 credits shy of the 120 required to complete his bachelor degree. “I ended up with $38,000 in student loans,” he said. According to Brooks, the loans are close to $50,000 now, thanks to interest and not making payments.
Brooks tutored, which provided some income, but was told if he wasn’t a student, he could not use the computer lab. That opportunity ended.
After losing his job, Brooks lived off what he had until it was gone. He found himself out on the street and homeless once again.
When he returned to the public library during the day, he met a woman who came from Texas. She and her three adult children were sharing an apartment just to make ends meet. She spoke plainly. “You can’t make it here,” she told him. “It’s too expensive. Go to Texas. The schools are cheaper and, in some cases, better.”
Originally from the Metroplex, the woman gave him names of shelters to contact once he arrived. That conversation proved to be a defining moment for Brooks, who soon boarded a bus headed to Dallas-Fort Worth with all of his worldly belongings crammed in one large duffel bag.
Brooks got off the bus in Denton and with the last of his money, took a cab to Union Gospel Mission. They took him in immediately and gave him a place to stay.
A case worker at the mission offered him two options — work or school. “I told her school, because I needed something new,” Brooks said.
Brooks applied to TCC and was accepted. However, his previous coursework from the for-profit university was not. “The classes I took aren’t worth the paper they are printed on, because they’re not college-ready,” he said. “All the classes I took there, I had to retake here.”
While Brooks previously paid for his education at TCC primarily with the Pell Grant and student loans, in 2018, he applied for and won the Visions Unlimited Scholarship, which provides $885 per semester. Started by Tina Jenkins, assistant professor at TCC South and project manager for the Visions Unlimited Program, the scholarship supports students who have accomplished academic and personal milestones (such as leadership on campus or in the community). “These funds help to stabilize them as they transition out of the shelter and begin to put the pieces of their lives together,” said Jenkins. “Kevin was an excellent candidate because he embodies the essence of why it was established.”
“The Visions Unlimited Scholarship through the TCC Foundation is not only a source of strong financial assistance, but also a source of pride,” said Liz Sisk, senior donor relations officer. “Kevin is persistent in his desire to complete his education, and receiving this scholarship is validation of his hard work and determination.”
Brooks recommends the scholarship to others working to transition out of homeless shelters, but advises them, “Don’t play around. This is your second chance.”
Brooks is quick to credit the instructors at TCC who have made a difference in his life, both academically and personally. They think highly of him as well. Jamie Thornton, adjunct faculty member, praised Brooks for his “perseverance to continue to learn what he felt he did not understand and the willingness to continue to expand on that learning.” Professor of Psychology William K. Brown also commended him. “He makes himself available as a mentor, sets up and leads mid-term and final exam study sessions, and has served as an officer in the Visions Unlimited Student Organization since his entry into the program.” Brown also hailed Brooks for being “demonstrably committed to serving his fellow students and the college community.”
Jared Cobb, director of student development services at TCC South, shared the difference Brooks made while volunteering in the Food Pantry. “Kevin Brooks did a phenomenal job volunteering in the South Campus Food Pantry,” said Cobb. “Kevin’s punctuality, hard work and positive disposition was noticed by both volunteers and students.” So much so that he was offered a work-study position at the beginning of the spring 2019 semester.
Brooks said TCC is equipping him for his bachelor's degree, which he plans to follow with a master's and a doctoral degree — all in cybersecurity. “Greatest college I ever came across. The quality here is superior,” Brooks said. “The teachers expect you to think. They expect great things from you, and most of them don’t know my story.”
What does Brooks want to do after finishing his education? Teach. “All the aptitude tests I have taken say I should be a teacher,” he said.
As a teacher, Brooks wants to make a positive difference in his students’ lives. “I will encourage them to come talk to me if they are having a tough time,” he said.
If Brooks could talk to the younger version of himself when he first stepped on a bus bound for D.C. in 2001, he says he would tell himself to not waste time and get in school immediately. “It broadened my horizons,” he said. A bright future indeed.
Find more information on scholarship opportunities through the Tarrant County College Foundation.