Nearly 400 people have helped fund a Baltimore City teen's college tuition. And even though the $30,000 fundraising goal has been reached, donations continue to pour in for 18-year-old Khalil Bridges, a recent graduate of Renaissance Academy High School.
This past school year, three Renaissance students were killed in just three months. Bridges thought at one time that the violence would consume him too, but now he's getting ready to attend college thanks to the generosity of strangers.
“Earlier this school year we lost a total of three male students that were directly connected to the Renaissance Academy community,” said Hallie Atwater, the community school coordinator for Renaissance Academy.
Atwater met Bridges last year through The University of Maryland School of Social Work Promise Heights program, a place-based initiative that works with six community schools in West Baltimore and helps families and children in the poverty-stricken neighborhood of Upton/Druid Heights.
Stuffed animals outside the school still pay tribute to one of the victims, 17-year-old Ananias Jolley, who was stabbed inside a classroom in November.
“To be honest, it's a reality for our young people. Our young black men, their life expectancy isn't past age 18, let alone 21,” said Antwon Cooper, Khalil’s mentor and the CEO of Seeds of Promise, a mentoring program.
Bridges, though, is planning for his future. He's already overcome challenges that many will never experience and is using them to change the trajectory of his life.
“What's made me stronger is the fact that sometimes yeah, I haven't had a stable place to live, I've never really had a stable to live because my mother was in and out of hospitals but my motivation was when people were just dropping [dead],” Bridges said.
“When the article ran, we got so many positive responses and people asking if they could help. The GoFundMe page was kind of a logical next step and people just really took advantage of it,” Atwater said.
Donors have posted messages cheering him on and adding words of encouragement to persevere. One anonymous person gifted Bridges $10,000. In just 11 days, they've already surpassed the $30,000 fundraising goal to cover tuition for two years at community college as well as living expenses and other related costs. Atwater said the money is being held in an account that will strictly be used for Bridges’ education and the expenses that go along with it.
“I never thought I would've gotten anything like this, like this more than a dream come true, this is like they know that I'm going to be something if I try,” said Bridges. “And it's not even a try anymore. Now that they've given me enough money to go to college, I'm doing it."
He said the gesture doesn't just benefit him, but will have an impact on the community.
“This is not just for me, this has nothing to do with just me, this doesn't stop at me,” said Bridges.
Because there are others like Khalil who are still struggling, his story has become a beacon of hope. The message is that other Baltimore City kids can be successful, and it helps when others believe in them too.
“We have a lot of other kids who are successful, who need the opportunity to get on that big stage, the opportunity to shine and show that we have something to say, we have these things that we can do, we have all these great ideas, we have these things we want to make come to light, we just have to give them a platform,” Cooper said.
Khalil plans to attend community college for two years, then enroll in a four-year institution.
Hallie Atwater can be reached at at email@example.com.