From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul

Five Garbage Bags and a Dream

I attended high school in Syracuse, where I was not the greatest academic achiever. I did okay. My sports ability, however, attracted a great deal of attention from small colleges in the region. I received letters from most of the New York state schools. I chose Wagner College.

College was an eye-opening experience for me. I played football, and started with a lot of potential. Two of my friends and I were the top incoming freshman players. All of us were excited about school and all that it had to offer, but I didn’t realize how unprepared I was for life away from home, and I began to lose focus during the first year. I started to fall away from the values that caused me to be invited to the school in the first place. Freedom from home became freedom to do what I wanted to do, and this was the beginning of a hard fall; I ended up quitting the football team. I chose not to focus too intensely on academics, and after my first year, I quit school with no plans to return.

It was very difficult being the first person in the family to pursue a bachelor’s degree. I had no one from whom to seek advice. Once back home, I took a job as a dishwasher and stayed for almost one year. Being a dishwasher wasn’t my quest in life; it was, though, what I had to settle for. The job wasn’t difficult and the pay was low. Nevertheless, it afforded plenty of time to think about my future.

In my earlier years I had a plan: I was going to make it big playing sports (admittedly, 95 percent of my community had this plan, also). Once I made it big, I was going to use my name to become a motivational speaker, affecting the lives of youth and adults worldwide. I began to dream about this on a regular basis. I realized that as much as I loved sports, it was merely a means to an end—I wanted to speak publicly. My biggest problem was that I didn’t have a clue how to make this happen. I started to tell myself, I have to go back to school; it’ll be the only way I can effectively pursue my dream.

I happened to run into a high school friend a few days later, who told me he attended a little school outside of Philadelphia called Cheyney University—the nation’s oldest black college. Cheyney was a good school and their focus was on helping students graduate.

This seemed a perfect opportunity. I contacted the school, the coach and others, to discuss attending the college. Then I set up a going-away party at my mother’s home. My family and friends were excited for me and my future. One thing they didn’t realize—I was going to this school on faith. I hadn’t registered, and I didn’t have any money.

When I say I didn’t have any money, I really mean I had no money—only enough for a one-way ticket and food along the way. I didn’t even have luggage. Instead, I used garbage bags—five to be exact. But I had a dream to obtain my college degree and follow my passion. So, I packed my garbage bags with all of my possessions and said my good-byes. I had no family in Pennsylvania and no idea where I was headed. I’d never visited the campus nor even seen pictures of it. I’d never been to Philadelphia. I only knew one thing: Where I was going had to be better than where I was. For me, it was now or never. I refused to continue living a life of mediocrity and blaming people for my failures. I realized that if I was going to make it, I had to go.

I took a bus, and then a train, to the 69th Street Station. When I got off the train, I was almost hit by a trolley car— my first time ever seeing one! As a result, I dropped my bags, three of which ripped open. The people at the station stared at me. I got on the bus to Cheyney and took up two seats with all of my stuff, still determined.

On campus, long lines led to the registrar’s office, and I was hot and hungry. At the last possible hour, just before closing, I arrived at the front of the line. The lady in the registrar’s office asked to see my identification; she intended to pull up my registration and then talk about payment. I told her I didn’t have either.

“Did I hear you correctly when you said you didn’t have payment and you’re not registered?”

“Yes, ma’am, that’s what I said.”

“Have you lost your marbles?”

“Yes, ma’am, that’s why I’m here today.”

“How do you plan on paying for your education?”

“Ma’am, I don’t have any money, but you do,” I responded.

She looked at me with amazement. “You expect us to pay for your education?”

“Yes, ma’am, and I know you can do it.”

“Anybody who has the heart to do something as crazy as this must be serious about his education. Where did you come from?”

“Syracuse, New York, ma’am. I came here with everything I own in these five garbage bags, and I plan on going to school. I’m here to succeed. I know I’m going to make it.”

She looked at me for a long moment, “Wait here for one second.”

After talking with the business director, she asked, “Do you have a place to stay tonight?”


“Go and see the dormitory director; she’ll put you up for the night, and we’ll discuss this first thing in the morning.”

“Thank you.” I picked up my bags and went.

“You’re the young man who’s become the talk of the day,” the dormitory director greeted me.

“Yes, ma’am, I will graduate from this school, and one day be the talk of this university.”

She smiled. “I like you, young man. We’ll put you up for the night, and somehow we’ll help you get into this school tomorrow.”

The next day, I returned to the business office to learn of my fate. At the end of the day, a miraculous thing happened: The business manager found some available funds through a scholarship called the Wade Wilson Scholarship. I also received Pell Grant money and registered as a student at Cheyney University. Four years later, I graduated with a degree in business administration.

I left home with five bags and a dream. I had no money, no connections and no family—nothing except passion. As a result of both my determination and some helping hands, I am now a motivational speaker, author and trainer helping thousands of people pursue their own passions in life. My message is simply this: Don’t be afraid of the unknown when pursuing your dreams. Many times they are waiting, hoping you will find them.

Darrell “Coach D” Andrews

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