Student Spotlight: Orayne Williams
by Kathleen Toohill | University of Notre Dame
Orayne Williams was sleeping at shelters in New York when he graduated from Bedford Academy in Brooklyn last year and enrolled at Manhattanville College. He recently founded a nonprofit organization called Progressive People Movement to provide support for at-risk youth, further testament to the tenacity and determination of someone who refused to settle for being a statistic.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Williams moved to the United States alone when he was 12 years old. Williams says of his high school experience, “It was difficult but I got the hang of it and made the best of it. It was hard to stay focused and get work done, and act as if nothing (was) wrong.”
Williams graduated with honors from Bedford Academy. “It was discouraging at times not knowing (what) would be my next move, not having biological family support,” said Williams.
Williams said he always planned on attending college and his assistant principal and mentors at Bedford Academy provided crucial support for him during the college application process. “Not going to college was never an option,” Williams said.
After The New York Daily News published a story about his experience in June of 2010, readers donated $15,000 in scholarship money to Williams. He had planned to attend a two year community college, but enrolled at Manhattanville College in Westerchester after the president of the school read his story and encouraged him to apply, then later informed Williams that the school’s scholarship money could cover his tuition.
Williams says he has had a really good experience at Manhattanville College so far, which couldn’t be more true if his academic record is any indication. Williams took 18 credits and has a 3.6 GPA.
“I have a lot of support on campus and people who believe in me,” Williams says. “I have a good circle of friends.”
Williams now pours much of his time and energy into Progressive People Movement (PPM), an organization he founded to help provide at-risk youth with the guidance and support that helped him during his high school years. Williams says the special focus of PPM is on young black males. He hopes that PPM will help to strengthen communication, decision making and goal setting skills.
“PPM’s goal is to provide these youth the skills they need to succeed,” says Williams. “PPM will empower these youth to use these skills as tools to access and analyze information given to them so they can make educated decisions about life choices.”
Willams plans to continue his work with PPM upon graduating from Manhattanville and hopes to also pursue his PhD.
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