Philly Grad Aims for New Chapter In Life

Shawn Jorden on the steps of the Mint Building at the Community College of Philadelphia.

It happened earlier this month when Shawn Jorden, 25, was handed his degrees in Psychology and Liberal Arts from the Community College of Philadelphia, a goal that he had initially thought was out of reach.

Jorden attended Indiana University before attending CCP but because of the university's tuition and cost of living, he was forced to return to Philadelphia.

At times he found himself homeless while working to complete his degree, relying on the kindness of friends and family for a place to live and work.

"I really wasn't feeling it because I was at a four-year university and coming to a two-year institution, I was a little depressed about that," Jorden said. "So I did some research and decided that I needed some help but I wasn't sure what kind of help I needed."

Jorden connected with The Center for Male Engagement at CCP and met Kevin Convington, who would later become his mentor as well as Derrick Perkins, the director of the program.

The program was created to assist African American males and help them in their studies and ultimately to see them through graduation day. The center provides academic support, leadership development and life skills training.

"The first semester was kind of rocky and then my second semester I kind of started to pull things together," Jorden said. "I started to have a clear mind when talking to Derrick and Kevin who were motivating me."

Just as things appeared to be going well and Jorden found himself getting accustomed to his new college life, he returned home one day to find an eviction notice waiting for him.

Jorden was crushed and had no idea what to do. He wanted to give up and at that point, and saw his goal of graduating college fading behind him. It had become too much for him to concentrate on.

"It felt like every time that I was doing something good, something bad would happen," Jorden said.

Convington responded to a text from Jorden about his situation, telling him to come back to school the next day.

Jorden arrived at the offices of the CME the following day to find all of the program's support coaches waiting to talk to him and discuss the available options for continuing his education.

"And after hearing them I just felt like I could not let them down," Jorden said. "Hearing them speak highly of me made me think that I could overcome this and I did."

All students involved in the CME are assigned a support coach, who is essentially their lifeline on campus, said Perkins. The support coaches help students from the moment they are enrolled into the college until they graduate and sometimes beyond.

"A lot of students suffer in silence and we let them know that there is strength and power in asking for assistance and then providing them with the tools to do that," Perkins said. "The amazing thing about the support coaches is that they come from all walks of life as well. And so some of their life experiences mirror our students'."

Even with the help of Perkins and other members of CME, Jorden still had struggles to overcome. He had no place to live and nowhere to really claim as his own until his grandmother agreed to take him in.

Already crowded with other relatives, Jorden often found himself sleeping on the floor of the two-bedroom apartment.

"My aunt had her kids there and I was like, 'How can I manage this while still trying to go to school?' It was a hassle for a year," Jorden said. "A year happened and it was a second eviction."

Jorden then found himself couch surfing at the homes of friends, sometimes still sleeping on floors until finally finding a temporary place to stay at the home of a friend's cousin.

Perkins continued to remind Jorden that what he was going through was just temporary and that he would make it through. He did.

"I just remember these words that Derrick said to me," Jorden said. "I asked him, 'Why do you care so much?' He said, 'If I don't care who will?' That's what made me get myself together."

In a time when African Americans are not portrayed favorably in places like Baltimore and Ferguson, seeing the issues that they are facing pushes Jorden to further his education in order to help others and make a difference.

For Perkins, it just makes his work that much important.

"I completely understand the anger, the fear, the utter frustration and how African American men have been treated," Perkins said. "But why I do what I do is because I want to challenge those perspectives of who they think we are. We protest in building up our men. They're not here by accident, they're not here to be feared. They're a valuable asset not only to their communities, but this world."

Now that he's a graduate of CCP, Jorden has plans on becoming a social worker and would like to attend either West Chester University or Temple University, though his heart is set on West Chester.

"I would like to see myself walking across that stage again and I am capable of that," he said.