Graduate Rebounds from Homelessness
|Once homeless, Donald Taylor proudly celebrate his graduation day with his mother, Evelyn, and his son, Donald Jr.|
Like many college graduates, former FDU hoops star Donald Taylor is ready
to embrace the future. But few of his peers have encountered the obstacles
Taylor has faced on the way to that degree. Few of his fellow graduates
have known what it is like to live in a homeless shelter and to face the
despair and the temptation to resort to crime. Donald Taylor knows what
that is like and he wants to share what he's learned with youths in similar
circumstances. "I want to go to kids that are in the position I was
in. I'll teach them what my mom taught me - that the way out of the streets
isn't by crime, but by discipline, self-respect and pride."
When he was 15, Taylor, his mother, Evelyn, and three younger brothers were evicted from their Brooklyn apartment. Taylor was coming home from school that day and saw someone removing the furniture from his apartment. "I was ready to attack the guy," he says. "I thought we were being robbed. But when I saw my mother crying, I knew what was going on."
From there, the family was forced to find refuge in a homeless shelter in Manhattan. The shelter was an old, rundown school that was located in the midst of a crime-infested neighborhood. Living in such bleak conditions only increased Taylor's determination and will to succeed. He continued his high school studies and even turned down a lucrative offer to sell drugs. "I was tempted," he says, "but couldn't do it. I could never disappoint my mother." And, he adds, he wanted to set a good example for his younger brothers. "I was like their father. What would it look like if I did something illegal?"
With basketball as his main escape, Taylor overcame the pressures. "When it came to basketball and school, I channeled my anger positively and became more disciplined." At Prospect Heights High School in Brooklyn, he was voted to the All-City Team and was awarded the United States Basketball Writers Association Most Courageous Player Trophy.
After high school graduation, he enrolled in Sullivan County Community College in South Fallsburg, N.Y., where he helped the team gain the National Junior College Championship in 1992. The next year he earned his associate's degree and his family found an apartment in Brooklyn where they still live today. "I was so excited when she (his mother) told me. I was coming home to a real home."
At Sullivan, Taylor was recruited heavily by several schools but decided on Fairleigh Dickinson. "I wanted to be close to my mother. I also liked it because it's a good academic school and the team has a winning tradition." Taylor was a two-year starter on the Knights' basketball team. After his eligibility expired, he continued his basketball career with the Delaware franchise of the American Basketball Association and earned rookie of the year honors. At the same time, he completed the classes needed for his bachelor's degree in communications. And on Thursday, May 16, he took his place in line with about 1,100 graduates from the Teaneck-Hackensack Campus. "I feel like I just won a million dollars. It's one of the best feelings I've ever had, other than having my son (Donald, Jr.)"
He is now considering a career in teaching or coaching, where he can continue to be a role model to youngsters. And, he'll try to instill in others what his mother conveyed to him. "She had said, 'As long as you have respect, you don't have to look over your shoulder.'" Taylor recalls, "I didn't have the flashy things that other teenagers have, but I had respect. And I had faith in God." And now he has a hard-earned college degree and a bright future.