Stephon Davis has gotten a look at many leaders. “Growing up in Newark, you see a lot of them—positive ones and negative ones,” he says. However, he believes the most important thing is to find the leader in yourself, and that’s what he tried to do during his four years at Caldwell University.
The decision to attend college was a big deal; many voices told him college wasn’t worthwhile. His friends from Weequahic High School and the Newark neighborhoods were not going. “I was being different for the first time,” Stephon says.
After losing his mother at 11 years old—“I was momma’s boy,” he says—Stephon quickly learned that there were only a few options for a young black male: “streets, jail, graveyard, school.” He chose school.
From the beginning, the Educational Opportunity Fund Office at Caldwell University was like a supportive family—“always there, even at night to answer the phone.” EOF students are his brothers and sisters, Stephon says, and he embraces the Caldwell EOF slogan “EOF, like family, it works” . The program gives students hope, direction and opportunities to change the world, and in turn, he says, “I can help someone else—the domino effect.”
In freshman year Stephon was hit hard when his father died. His dad wasn’t always there for him growing up, but Stephon got to spend time with him while he was ill, and his father encouraged him to pursue his education, to keep going and to look out for his sisters, his family and himself.
A lot in his life had to change. “I had attitude issues, character defects” and problems in “how I talked and presented myself,” but little by little “with God’s grace, every day I’m changing,” he says. And Stephon had to persevere to make it to graduation. “You have to be careful who you network with,” he says. “Friends and family can make or break you. Know your priorities and take pride in yourself.” There were times when he wanted to drop out to “become a part of my society; I thought it was easier to not be different.” But two cousins who were like brothers helped him and “protected me from things I didn’t see.”
Stephon feels enormous gratitude toward a long list of people at Caldwell University, including his professors in the Criminal Justice and Sociology Department, the academic success center staff, the administration, and of course the EOF staff. He has also relied on his aunt and uncle, who are ministers at his church and who have been at his side since his parents died, and on his 89-year-old stepfather, a “great inspiration.” He adds that his sisters “taught me things my mother could not teach me and kept me laughing even in down times.”
Stephon has several options for his career. He has been volunteering at the ARC of Essex County, working with the developmentally disabled, which has taught him patience. “I wasn’t patient before.” He is looking into pursuing work at the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency or at the federal Transportation Security Administration.
Most of all, Stephon knows God is by his side. “Faith is everything … you have to climb the mountain in a respectful way.” The EOF program has taught him that opportunities can become reality with extraordinary faith. “You have to run the race and not give up,” he says.
To find out more about the Caldwell University Educational Opportunity Fund, go to: https://www.caldwell.edu/eof