What degrees have you completed and/or pursuing?
I have a bachelors degree in social work from Columbia College in Columbia, MO (graduated with a 3.72 GPA andCum Laude). I also have a masters degree in social work with an emphasis in policy, planning, and administration from the University of Missouri-Columbia. In the spring of 2012, I was enrolled in the Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis PhD program at the University of Missouri-Columbia. I was not able to continue in the program due to emotional and financial stressors but hope to resume my studies very soon.
What life circumstances or obstacles have you overcome to get to the point of where you are?
I was born into poverty. My mother raised my three siblings and me in public housing and on government assistance. I know what it is like to go to the store and spend food stamps, to receive utilities assistance, eat government cheese, and to have the utilities cut off in the middle of the winter. My oldest brother was murdered in 1991, my sister has been in and out of prison due to drug addiction, and my younger brother is scheduled to be released from prison this month. In the fall of 1989, I actually attended Lincoln University (MO) after the birth of my eldest daughter the month before. I did well academically but when I returned home in December, I was told that we would not be able to celebrate Christmas unless I did something with the $80 my mother had left of all of our family resources. As a result, I attempted to sell crack cocaine that I bought from a neighbor to earn extra money so my family could have a Christmas, but was caught that night. I was sentenced to probation because I had attended college.
I moved to Oklahoma and attended Northeastern Oklahoma State University. After a successful academic year, I moved to Tulsa, OK to be with the mother of my second daughter. A couple of years later, we broke up and I began a downward spiral of packing a pistol, partying in clubs, drinking, and living the fast life. In June of 1994, a friend approached me about robbing a restaurant that he used to work . He said it would be simple for us to run in, grab the moneybag, and run out. We were caught and I was sentenced to 12 years in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. It was while I was incarcerated that I realized that I was different and that God had something special for me to do. I spent 5 years 3 months in the Oklahoma Dept. of Corrections and then was sent to the State of Missouri to serve my revoked probation. Once in Missouri, I served an additional 6 months and was released on parole.
The current obstacle that I am struggling to overcome is the obstacle of discrimination against convicted felons. I understand and accept that there are some felonies that are not as easy to forgive and move forward from, but after 24 years since my first arrest and 19 years since my second, I would think that I have paid my debt to society. I have been a mentor to at risk youth, spoken to inmates in jail about turning their lives around, served on the local United Way Board of Directors, and created an award winning Black men’s initiative program at the University of Missouri that provided leadership development, academic and personal support, and community service opportunities for its members.
What is your motivation for achieving?
My motivation for achieving is to be a role model to my children and young people everywhere; especially for young black males raised in less than ideal environments like I was raised. That is no slight on my mother, public housing, or anything like that. As Tupac says, “she was only working with the scraps she was given and momma made miracles every Thanksgiving.” I also think that it is important for people to see that it is possible to overcome mistakes from their past. The truth is that if people do not feel that it is possible, they would have very little motivation to turn their lives around. Unfortunately, it becomes sort of a “one (mistake) and done type of deal.”
What do you plan to do with your degree?
I want to be an educational administrator but also serve as a national consultant and public speaker on the issues of Black males, Black masculinity, and leadership among young Blacks. I hope to inspire young Black males to never let the streets, society, parents, teachers, friends, family, or anyone steal their dreams away from them. I will work to help educate the dominate society about the issues faced by Black males and to offer a peek inside of the mind of life experiences of many Black males.
Anything else you would like for me to consider?
I would ask that you consider the fact that I am one of a few people that have ever been incarcerated that are attempting a PhD. With the fact that less than 5 percent of the American population has a PhD, I ask you how many people within that population really did “start at the bottom and now they’re here?”
This is the incredible story of Nathan Stephens!