At a time when most teens are planning their future and looking forward to college, Paul Carter was hoping and praying he and his mother would have shelter and food. For Carter, his teen years were anything except carefree and fun; he found himself working and balancing classwork at one of the top magnet high schools in the nation, Loveless Academy, located in Montgomery, Alabama. Loveless Academy is ranked No.34 in the nation among high schools and No.1 in Alabama. It boasts a graduation rate of 95 percent according to U.S. News. When asked how he was able to excel in academics when life was a daily struggle, Carter credits his “faith and ability to look towards a future hope.”
Asking Carter to expound on that time in his life brings back memories that are hard for him to express in some respects. “I was around 19 and 20 years old when I experienced homelessness” says Carter.
When asked what infused him with hope and the desire to continue in success when things were hard, he says, “I focused on God a majority of the time. I also looked to when I could leave my situation. I was given support where I could and, then, would go on my own when the time was right,” he said.
“I also met people along my journey that encouraged me,” he continued. “Those people were peers and older adult or parental figures that shared words of wisdom, spare time, or acts of kindness with me. These things kept me going.”
Carter credited a local pastor who worked part time with him at Circuit City, for helping him stay focused on his studies.
Carter, was able to maintain focus while in a competitive academic environment with a tough home situation plaguing him. “Doing well in school gave me a sense of achievement for many years,” Carter said. “In 5th grade, I was sent to Space Camp for achieving good grades. This gift from my teacher ingrained in me that I could change my circumstances for the better by getting good grades, so that never wavered.”
The kindness of a teacher caused Carter to see hope in his hard situation. “Additionally, school helped to take my mind off of what troubled me away from school,” he added.
After graduating from Loveless Academy, Carter attended Miles College, in Birmingham, Alabama, on a Pell Financial Grant scholarship until he ran out of money. “I received a scholarship from Delta Sigma Theta during my third semester at Miles. My financial aid would not have covered my tuition at the time, but a professor, who was also one of my mentors, submitted my application and I was awarded the scholarship,” he explained. I am grateful to that professor and the sorority because I did not have another option at the time.”
Carter spent two years at Miles College before transferring to Auburn University in Montgomery. However, he attributes a lot of his personal growth to his time spent at Miles College.
Carter received a partial scholarship to complete his studies in information systems with a focus in systems development at AUM. After graduating from AUM, Carter graduated: summa cum laude, and received numerous honors, including, a leadership award, AUM ambassador honors, and a School of Business award.
He also received a standing ovation from the audience and a speech from the dean of the School of Business at AUM concerning his academic achievements during his enrollment at AUM.
Carter had come a long way from the hopelessness and homelessness earlier in his life to find stability through determination and the generosity of others who recognized and help cultivate his potential.
“Do not let your lack of possessions or stable housing determine your self-worth or hinder your willingness to engage relationships with others,” he said.
The fear and shame of homelessness can make someone to shy away from personal interaction with others. Carter says that “it’s not impossible to overcome that shame, but it will take work.”
“There are people out there who are willing to help, but you may have to let go of the potential shame from homelessness to invite them in,” he said.
“Regardless of having a physical home, your heart has a home within it. It may not be easy to evict hurt, shame, and bitterness, but hope will be a much better resident in your heart if you let it stay there.”