It is stories such as this that I hope will inspire all who are suffering at this junction in their life’s’ journey. I hope it will make us realize that down doesn’t necessarily mean out; That even in the worst of times, tomorrow can change the course of your life, without warning. I hope it really let’s you know that Hope is not just a word that is reserved for everyone but you.
Wellington Mackey is a good example of this. After being evicted from his apartment in the Bronx, New York, in January 2003, his life was the closest thing to a living hell.
But now, 13 years later, all of this has changed.
He is a graduate of Westchester Community College and recently learned that his diligence paid off, and he has been awarded a Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. What this means is he is eligible to receive up to $40,000 per year to attend the college of his choice.
And that choice is an Ivy league one: Yale University..
“You come to that point where you have to decide: are you going to run back home, or are you going to push forward?” Mackey recalled. “I decided to push forward.”
Mackey, who was born in the Bahamas, immigrated to NYC at the age of 23; but fell on hard times soon afterwards and was unable to pay his rent. It was that January day referenced earlier in this article that he returned home to his Bronx apartment, only to find the locks had been changed.
With no alternative in sight, he turned to the benches in the cold, snowy parks of NYC, and the subways cars– changing trains at the end of each line so he wouldn’t get caught.
“It was scary because I didn’t really know the culture much,” Mackey said. “It was a difficult time.”
But in April when he learned that he had been awarded the scholarship, which is given to only 85 students annually nationwide, he couldn’t believe it.
“The fact that he was selected out of so many students really speaks to his character,” said Sandra Ramsay, director of scholarships at WCC. “His story and his academic record really resonated with the foundation.”
Mackey excelled in the classroom, but ending up dropping out of high school to take a job and help support his family. He enjoyed reading and had done so since his youth; and later, when he faced homelessness, he spent hours and sometimes days in local bookstores reading a variety of books.
It was after he got his green card in 2012, that the scholarships started rolling in; first he got the Kathryn W. Davis Global Community Scholarship at WCC, which paid for his tuition there, and then the scholarship that allows him to transfer to Yale.
And he does not shy away from crediting those who have helped him in his journey. One of whom is an elderly woman he met at church that allowed him to live with her in exchange for doing housework. Another is the Westchester branch of Tri-State Installations, a company that builds out office spaces, which offered Mackey his first full-time job and where he now serves as general manager.
Now a married man with two children ages 1 and 4, Mackey has founded a charity called Helping H.A.N.D.S. (Hunger And Need Distribution Service). The Bronx-based nonprofit organization “raises awareness about the issue of hunger” and works with local soup kitchens and to enhance food distribution networks.
He actually made a very smart move when he brought the Helping H.A.N.D.S initiative along with him to get WCC students involved in its outreach efforts; a relationship that will continue even after he leaves.
“I’ve seen people on the street, I’ve seen the devastation that poverty wreaks, I’ve seen the dichotomy in society,” he said. “I really wanted to try to figure out how we could do a little better as a society.”
“I had hope and optimism,” Mackey said. “And there’s a big difference between homelessness and hopelessness.”
Watch this inspiring man share his story in the video below.