Everybody else has left the Johnston County Agricultural Center after a day of independent living lessons, but Dei’jion stays and watches a crew take down wall partitions. He points out the man who seems to be in charge. “Look at him. He is making money right now. I bet he’s got a nice house, nice car, nice family. I know he does. I’m going to get that. I am going to grind, to better myself, and do everything in my power to get that.”
Dei’jion is 15, and his mind is churning with plans: Get a job at 16 when he can drive. Make good grades and finish high school. Go to college, enter the military — specifically, the Army. After that, open a business like a barber shop. He wants to travel beyond the places he’s lived in North Carolina and Virginia.
To understand the depth of Dei’jion’s drive, it helps to know a little about his past.
At an early age, he learned how it felt to go without lights when money ran short. “Poverty is like a hunger,” he says. He paid his own price for getting in trouble, following people who didn’t have his best interests at heart: He was locked in detention and watched as his mother cried on a juvenile court bench when he was sent away.
He later absorbed the news that his mother didn’t want him back.
“Where I’m from — drugs, guns, stuff like that — that’s what I grew up around. … People look at you and say, ‘You’re a juvenile [offender], you’re going to be like that for the rest of your life.’ ”
Not so, he says. Methodist Home for Children gave him a chance to prove it.
Dei’jion came to live in an MHC multipurpose home in September 2014, and that’s where he met program manager Jose Taylor and vocational specialist TreNeice Townes (now juvenile services coordinator). “They saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself,” he says. “I was going to be a failure for real. I really thought that.”
They taught him to set goals, and they talked about a program that helps teens like him get a job. He wasn’t sure where he would live after the multipurpose home — maybe even foster care — but he started asking his court counselor to refer him to MHC’s vocational training program, called Work4It.
The good news came at the end of Dei’jion’s nine-month placement: He would get to live with his grandmother, and he would get a spot in Work4It.
That summer, TreNeice placed him in a job at his middle school cleaning out classrooms, cleaning desks, painting walls. He loved it.
Dei’jion is back in school now, 10th grade, and he’s doing well. He’s in the JROTC. He was water boy and manager for the football team and he traveled to the state championships. He’s played basketball and baseball. He sees a brighter future for himself, and he’s willing to work to get it.
“My grandma always tells me, ‘I want to see the best in you, Dei’jion. I want you to get out here and do what you’ve got to do.’ That’s my mindset. Do what I’ve got to do.”