In moments when he just wanted to yell – when his family broke his heart, when he had no place that felt like home, when he was alone – Troy McClurkin poured his voice and heart into his trumpet.
“Music would be kind of something that would take my mind off of what was going on at home and what was happening to me,” said the 19-year-old, who will graduate from Richland 1’s C.A. Johnson High School in Columbia on Friday.
Sharp-dressed and soft-spoken, McClurkin has taken his painful past and turned it into a drive to claim a hopeful future for himself.
As a high-school freshman, McClurkin found his way out of a difficult home situation and into a series of foster and group homes.
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“I felt like giving up,” he said. “I just felt like I was by myself.”
A little over a year ago, he finally found some sense of home and family at Palmetto Place Children’s Shelter.
Seeing McClurkin discover himself and success has been a joy and a source of pride for his Palmetto Place family, executive director Jill Lawson said.
“For the other kids in the house, I think that they see Troy and his accomplishments, and it’s inspiring to them,” Lawson said. “For the ones that are in ninth and 10th grade that have similar background stories, I think they look at Troy and they see this life is obtainable ... and (they) can do this, but here’s how much hard work goes into it.”
At Palmetto Place, McClurkin’s self-esteem and his school grades rose. He made the honor roll every quarter his senior year, for the first time in his education.
He got a job and a car, a 2004 Chrysler Sebring donated by the S.C. Foster Parent Association – “It has some kinks to it,” he said, “but it’s a nice car, and I’m very thankful for it.”
And while he prefers to practice his trumpet in the laundry room at Palmetto Place so no one will hear his mistakes, he has become a better musician, too.
Well – “I wouldn’t say better,” McClurkin said. “I’ve gotten fantastic.”
He became the trumpet section leader of C.A. Johnson’s marching band, and he recently aced an audition to join the marching band at S.C. State University, which he’ll attend in the fall.
McClurkin is one of the best band members Kelvin Jordan has directed in the past two years at C.A. Johnson, Jordan said.
“He has an independent spirit to him, kind of just a quiet drive,” Jordan said. “He’s a quiet storm type of dude. ... He’s not going to say too much, but his presence just speaks.”
While McClurkin’s fellow musicians have looked to him as an example, McClurkin has looked to Jordan as an inspirational figure of his own.
“I look to him like he was a father,” McClurkin said. “He was hard on me, but in the same sense, he was doing it so that I can help strengthen the rest of the (trumpet) section.”
Jordan recognizes the soothing influence of music in McClurkin’s life as the same comfort he once turned to as a frustrated youth.
“At times I would be angry just from my situation, and music was just my outlet ... a way to let it out and not resort to the streets or violence,” Jordan said. “For him, I’m assuming he was doing the same thing.”
“He rises to the challenge,” Jordan said of his student. “No matter what your circumstance is, there’s a way to come out of that.”
Carrying his trumpet and his quiet confidence, McClurkin will play in the marching band at S.C. State while studying music education, planning for a future as a music teacher and, perhaps one day, as a motivational speaker.
He’ll tell other young people, “Never give up,” he said. “Never let someone put your life at risk. And whatever they do, never stop trying for something that they really want to accomplish and go for.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.