HOUSTON – Devon Wade is a shining example of success -- an honors graduate of Louisiana State University, a Harry S. Truman scholar and now a doctoral student in sociology at Columbia University. However, in 2001, reaching this point was the furthest thing from his imagination.
At age 15, a sophomore at Smiley High School in Northeast Houston, Wade was the child of an incarcerated father and a mother who was headed back to prison for the second time.
"Even when she had a second chance, she messed it up," Wade said.
Wade's grandparents raised him, but he found another family on campus at Smiley High. A group had formed called No More Victims. It provides children of incarcerated parents a safe place to share their stories, encourage each other and focus on their futures.
"I never really talked about having parents in prison, Wade said. "I never told anyone. It was shameful, and there was a stigma that followed. I didn't want people to know about that aspect of my life."
Wade met Marilyn Gambrell, the organization's founder. She said she knew Wade was someone special.
"I said, 'This young man has so much potential,'" Gambrell said. "I said, 'Tell your story, sweetheart.'"
And he did.
Wade opened up in ways he hadn't before with Gambrell's guidance.
"She would teach us different techniques about communication, about anger, about not feeling like you had to internalize the stigma of having parents in prison," he said.
"It helps me function during the day," Wade said. "I call them my family, because they've been here for me when my family wasn't, so why not be family?"
With the love and support of his grandparents and his new family at No More Victims Wade excelled in school.
"I was a straight-A student, involved in every activity on campus," Wade said. "You name it, I was involved in it. My way of coping was to get involved in as many activities as possible.
Now, as part of his dissertation at Columbia University, Wade is returning to his roots, researching the impact of incarceration and poverty on communities of color.
He speaks to the next generation of young people involved in No More Victims.
"Here I am 10 years later, now doing research and working with the organization that sparked this in the first place, so I am incredibly humbled to be able to come back and give back," Wade said.
"He's saying, 'I'm only showing you what all of us can do. Any child in No More Victims can get their doctorate degree. I'm not unique. I'm just revealing that it's possible,'" Gambrell said.
"That's what we want to do, is to empower these young kids that they can be what they want to be and they don't have to be ashamed of their narratives," Wade said.
Wade said when he was in high school he wanted to be an FBI agent. And while his path has changed, the mission he has chosen is really not all that different.
"How do we have better conversations and policies around what is going on in our neighborhoods? I think that for me, it's something I look forward to doing with the type of research and conversations that I have," Wade said.
Today, Wade's mother is out of prison and is enjoying a successful career. The two have a wonderful relationship and she said she is so proud of her son.
Click here if you would like to donate to No More Victims Care of Cherish Our Children International.