Students Rising Above: From SF’s Mean Streets To Academic Heights
(KPIX 5) – To find San Francisco native Tyre Ellison now, you would have to go to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he is a fellow with the prestigious Coro Fellows Program. It is a nine-month, graduate-level program in leadership training, and a long way from the Sunnydale Projects where he grew up.
We first met Ellison as a lanky, 17-year-old senior at Burton High School. “In a community like mine, I just worry about me making it to the age of 18,” he said at the time.
In his Ingleside district there have already been 22 murders in the first six months of this year. “People don’t make it out,” he said, “whether it’s in or out of jail, being killed…”
Ellison was used to living in fear, especially after his 19-year-old cousin was shot and killed. He says he knows more people that have been shot in his community than people who have graduated from college. “When I do hear a gunshot, I be thinking, like, ‘aw man, I hope nobody like killed or hurt,” he said.
Delores Beasly Ellison, Tyre’s mother, prepared him for this environment by continuously praying and setting down the law to keep him safe. “I might be strict and set in my ways, but it will keep you out of the system at another age,” she said.
It worked. Ellison graduated from the University of California, Berkeley last year. “It was a big, big deal for me,” he said. “I didn’t really hear about too many people graduating from college. And just being one of the few who had the chance to do that, it was like a dream come true.”
It was not an easy transition from the Sunnydale projects to Cal, especially in the beginning with what he described as culture shock. “Sometimes you feel isolated or you feel like you don’t fit in, or you feel like you don’t belong,” he said. “But you have to constantly remind yourself: you have the same right as anybody else to be there… you worked for it.”
Ellison was a walk-on defensive back for Cal after being a football star at Burton High. “One out of every 4,000, I would get a kid like this,” said his coach Duane Breaux. “Every four years or every five years.”
He was the rare athlete who never missed football practice and took advanced placement classes. Ellison learned that hard work pays off. “You just can’t expect people to always give you things. Sometimes, I feel like people get comfortable just receiving. Sometimes they don’t want to strap on the boots…”
He spoke at the commencement exercises for the School of Social Welfare, declaring “I learned to be stronger because of the obstacles instead of letting those obstacles defeat me.”
Now, through the Coro Fellows Program, Ellison will be exposed to a range of professions and career options. He’s thinking about graduate school and somewhere down the line, starting a non-profit that would work with kids like him. “I appreciate every opportunity,” he said. “I just want to be able to share that light (with) other people and inspire them to be what they want to be.”
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