Aaron James Price along with Dr. Jowel C. Laguerre receiving the Chancellor’s Trophy at the Laney College Spring Commencement Ceremony on May 27, 2017. Photo Courtesy of Laney College.
By Aaron James Price
I still can’t believe how much my life has changed in the past three years. I keep asking myself, “Is this really happening to me? Is this a dream?” And, it is happening! I carry the proof in my back pocket – a folded letter of acceptance to the University of California, Berkeley.
Years ago, I didn’t have any interest in college. I grew up in Seattle, Wash., and Hayward, California – moving around a lot as my mother struggled to find work to support the family. I ended up attending six elementary schools, three middle schools, and two high schools.
I joined the U.S. Navy after high school and it wasn’t long before I picked up a drinking habit that eventually cost me my military career. After three years, I was discharged – homeless and sleeping in my car not far from the base in Jacksonville, Fla., I bounced around, crashing at friends’ apartments for months at a time. At some point, I met my father for the first time and he let me stay with him a few months in Georgia.
Eventually, I made my way back to my mother’s house in Hayward, but my alcohol problems came with me. I picked up four DUIs that landed me in jail and felt like my life had no direction. I couldn’t believe my predicament – here I was, a young black male who was incarcerated and perhaps destined to live in and out of jail.
At the time, I was father of two children. Because of my record, however, I was ordered supervised visitation for my son and was in a court battle for my daughter. There was so much disappointment I was carrying inside and so many regrets. I began to attend recovery programs to stop the downward spiral. As I got better, I realized that my children needed me and that I had to be there for them. I moved in with my brother in Oakland and over time I won custody of my daughter who was five years old at the time.
My children’s unconditional love, their innocence, and laughter inspired me to become a better father. After my daughter was diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), I spent a lot of time researching and sitting in her class every other day, until I found my passion and purpose of becoming a psychologist one day.
It was at the welfare-to-work office that I was given the choice to go to work or attend school. The social worker suggested I pay a visit to Laney College and check out their Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) program, CARE and CalWorks programs. When I got there I was welcomed with a smile and that same afternoon enrolled in four classes for the 2014 fall semester.
At Laney, the support seemed endless to ensure a student didn’t fail. In my case, I joined programs such as Umoja-UBAKA, which offers support to at-risk black students. I also went to the tutoring center to get help with math and my papers, and began attending Black Student Union meetings.
Who knew that I would like school and do well? I kept my grade point average above 3.5 every semester and joined the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. I won many scholarships, including the Dean and President’s Medallion and the Chancellor’s Trophy, and thanks to my amazing teachers, I also discovered that I had a talent for writing and became a peer tutor at the Writing Center.
All along, my children have been the source of my motivation and strength and with that, I was able to earn an associate’s degree in Language Arts and Social Science and soon, I’ll be graduating with a second degree in African American studies and psychology. In August, I’ll continue my education at Berkeley with a goal of eventually earning a Ph.D. in the behavioral sciences.
I wouldn’t have been able to get this far without my family and everyone at Laney who rooted for me from day one. I’ve had the best teachers, counselors, and access to support that kept me moving in the right direction.
Many people tell me that I should write a book about my life and perhaps I will, but I’m not the only student who’s come to one of the Peralta colleges to eventually transfer to Berkeley, Stanford, or another great school. There are a variety of reasons students attend community colleges, but the bottom line is this: They are an investment in our communities, local economy and future generations. There are many stories like mine here – folks who never even dreamed of what they could achieve. I certainly didn’t.