Darrius Snow, a 19-year-old freshman at Voorhees College, will accept a $20,000 national award tonight for his work mentoring and tutoring young people.
Snow will receive the TeenNick HALO Award during a national broadcast at 8 p.m. on Nickelodeon's 24-hour TV network. It will be broadcast again on Nick at Nite at 9 p.m.
The HALO Award - which stands for Helping And Leading Others - recognizes Snow's work in the tough Atlanta neighborhood where he was raised. But it celebrates how high Snow has soared above circumstances that could have steered him to poverty, prison or hopelessness.
Instead, Snow, a business administration major, wants to get a master's degree, head a firm that works with actors, run a non-profit organization, own a restaurant franchise and open a homeless shelter in the name of a cherished cousin. He's already working to start a tutoring and mentoring program to help children in the Denmark community, near Voorhees.
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"I'm sorry," he said, during a recent telephone interview. "I've got big dreams."
SOMETHING WAS WRONG
Neighbors in the Atlanta community where Snow and his four siblings lived knew something was wrong.
They had not seen the children's mother for some time, and they worried that the woman, who had a drug problem, had abandoned her children.
Their fears were well-founded.
Along with his siblings, Snow, then 2, presented a difficult case for a foster-care system that always has too many children and not enough homes. Family was mostly uninterested or unable to step in, Snow said.
But Vivilore Rogers, an older cousin, would not see Snow and his siblings separated. She had little of material value to offer, but she had a home crowded with other family castoffs and she had love.
She offered Snow and his siblings both.
Rogers had done it before, Snow said.
Years before, when his maternal grandmother died of AIDS, it was Rogers who took in Snow's mother and her siblings.
"She don't believe in putting no one on the streets at all," Snow said.
While Rogers gave the children a home, she could not keep poverty at bay.
"She didn't have the money to do with us what she wanted to do with us," Snow recalled. "She did get checks for us, but that didn't cover us. We got food stamps, but that didn't cover us."
There were few guideposts in the Bankhead Courts housing project where Snow grew up.
Drugs were omnipresent. None of his siblings finished high school.
But Snow had Rogers' hopes for him, and he had his own dreams and determination.
"I got tired of living like that, tired of struggling," he said. "I felt like it was time to break the cycle. When I have kids, I don't want my kids to live like that."
Snow joined an organization, Bankhead Teens Encouraging Action by Motivating, that allowed him to tutor and mentor kids in the neighborhood.
Through another organization, essential2life, he picked up life skills - how to make public remarks, how to complete a resume, how to eat at the table.
He said he began to aim for more polish. "I had to change the way I walk, change the way I talk."
Snow graduated from high school with a 3.5 grade-point average, but he did not know how he could afford college.
"I wanted to go to Morehouse (College), but Morehouse was too expensive. I wanted to go to Clark (Atlanta University), but Clark was too expensive."
An admissions officer from Voorhees, meanwhile, had learned about Snow from a teacher at his school.
Snow said he was struck by how determined the admissions officer was to get him to Voorhees.
"I remember the admissions officer coming to my school and saying, 'What can I do to get Darrius to come to our school?'" Snow said. "The teacher said, 'Give him something he can't turn down.'"
Voorhees did just that, offering financial aid so he could attend.
"They invested in me like a football player," Snow said.
Snow is early in his studies at Voorhees, but a teacher there said he's already making a mark.
"He's a joy," said Eartha Hammond, who teaches Snow in college dynamics, a freshman orientation course. "He's my little leader in there."
One of the groups Snow worked with in Atlanta, essential2life, remembered how much inspiration he generated in Bankhead.
The organization nominated him for one of four HALO awards, a new honor set up by entertainer Nick Cannon.
"The most difficult part about the HALO Awards was choosing only four recipients," Cannon told the Associated Press in a recent interview. "I mean, we did our research and found hundreds and thousands of amazing teens, young people doing remarkable things in their community to uplift people and inspire people."
Cannon and a camera crew surprised Snow in Atlanta in September and whisked him off to Ohio, where he met basketball stars LeBron James and Chris Paul.
Snow seemed incredulous in describing what happened once he got to Ohio.
"They put me in a car and told me we were going to a party. They took me to a club. I went in and went upstairs. I see this tall guy. It's LeBron James. He's shaking my hand."
Snow spent the weekend with James, Paul and Cannon participating in charitable events.
The HALO Award will provide $10,000 in scholarship money Snow can use at Voorhees and another $10,000 to continue his community work.
But Snow said the honor means more to him.
"Now, I get a chance to reach out to some other kids. I can show them that there is a way out. There is no excuse. All you have to do is try."