COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — For five years, Lashawn Samuel walked three miles round trip from his home to a local library to get help with his homework, and it has paid off.
The Columbus City Schools student says this spring, he was accepted to 12 colleges and universities, and several of them offered a full scholarship, including his No. 1 choice Ohio State University.
He will be the first person in his family to go to college.
He achieved his goals despite many challenges to his health, his personal safety and his financial security.
Samuel says his story is a testament of what can happen when you work hard and persevere and lean on your community to get help when you need it.
Part of what has helped him are the words of world-famous tennis professional Arthur Ashe. Ashe is the only African American to win the singles titles at the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, and the Australian Open. It is believed he contracted HIV during heart bypass surgery from a blood transfusion in the early 1980s.
Ashe said this about taking on challenges: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
That’s what Samuel did while seeking to get into college. Coming from poverty, he had fewer opportunities than most, but he made the most of what he had.
Starting in eighth grade, Samuel would regularly walk from his home to the Franklinton Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, sign into the Homework Help Center around 3 p.m., work until the center closed and walk back home.
The entire trip was three miles. Sometimes, he walked home in the dark to his Section 8 housing.
During those five years, Samuel got sick and had to be hospitalized, struggled with having enough food to eat, and lost his friend to gang violence.
“The kid has tremendous perseverance and he just keeps going,” said Kelly Young, one of the Homework Help associates at the Columbus Metropolitan Library.
Young says the staff noticed how much Samuel’s writing improved from when he’d started coming to the library. But he was still nervous and uncertain about whether schools would accept him.
“During a time like this, when we are all facing such uncertainty, I think Lashawn’s story can really teach us,” Young said. “Using the resources that are around us in our community and depending on each other, that’s just the way that we can all get through this pandemic and all the uncertainty of what lies ahead.”
The University of Akron was first to respond with a letter of acceptance.
“I was so excited that I was going to college,” Samuel said. “Even if nobody else accepted me, I had this in my pocket. I knew that I … did what I had to do to get into college, and my hard work was paying off.”
Then several more acceptance letters came, and his concern over getting in turned into concerns over which school to choose.
But once he got his acceptance letter to the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University, his dream school, he knew where he would go.
Things got even better when he found out that he was being offered scholarships that made going to school practically free.
“I never would have achieved it without God, my family, my friends and this environment I have around me,” Samuel said.
As the COVID-19 pandemic ravages the lives of millions, Samuel and his family have hope and he recommends the same for others.
“There’s always going to be a challenge or an obstacle that you’re going to have to overcome or grow out of,” Samuel said. “But as long as you keep true to yourself and have faith and persevere so that you can overcome it, then you will.”