A home, food, clothes on their backs.
A set up far from where Wesley Hawkins and his 6-year-old little brother Elijah Robinson were born into.
“I grew up with two drug addict parents,” Hawkins said. “My mother was strung out on crack cocaine and she started indulging in heroin as well. She was using drugs since I was born.”
Home was what they call “Abandiminums”.
When the front door wasn’t boarded up Hawkins was in foster care.
“At a young age I couldn’t read write or count,” he said. “It took a lot for people really to invest in me. I got put out of schools a lot and not because I didn’t care about school. I got put out of school because when you’re hungry how can you focus on school?”
He learned to survive in the streets.
“It taught me how to be more so of a survivor instead of somebody that was worried about education.”
Even though his father wasn’t around, and his mother was chasing a high more than she was being a parent, he wanted to be home more than in foster care.
When his aunt, a God-fearing woman, took him in she taught him a better way.
“Even when I got in trouble she always stayed there with me.”
He had a lot of catching up to do in school, he was four grades behind kids his age.
It took some time, but he graduated from Baltimore City Community College.
In the process of getting his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Baltimore, he found out his mother was going to have her 10th child.
“When I found out my mother was pregnant with another child it broke my heart. Because my mother had literally lost all of her kids. She lost all them to the foster care system.”
Hawkins knew his mother was using throughout the pregnancy and up until the day she died of an overdose.
The night he last saw his mother laying at the hospital, a friend reached out and told him then 2-year-old Elijah was in one of the Abandiminiums on West North Avenue.
“There was people in there having sex for money, people were selling drugs, people were using drugs. People were just cluttered in the house and you had a child digging through the trash can and nobody’s paying attention to him.”
Elijah was a mess covered in his own feces, he had been living off trash for at least two days.
Hawkins became his foster parent but couldn’t take full custody because Elijah’s father was still alive.
Two months after their mother died Elijah’s father was killed and left in a burning rowhome.
“Now I’m a father, you know a big brother but a father overnight.”
They’ve done everything together since.
“When I’m doing community service and when I’m cleaning the community he’s out there with me, he understands don’t litter."
Saving his brother wasn't enough, so he started the Nolita Project named after his mother.
The organization teams up with local schools helping kids who have been in his shoes with college readiness, entrepreneurship and life skills.
“For me to even get here I feel like I’m blessed. Because I feel like I’m blessed I feel like I have to give back to the kids that grew up just like me.”
The payoff for Hawkins- giving his brother and other young people a chance at life that eluded him for so long.
“He doesn’t really have the memory of that stuff, so It feels good to me to be able to say I changed his life.”
Elijah is a young man of few words in front of a camera, but he’s not bashful about his older brother.
“I love my brother, I love everything he bought me. I love everything he’s doing.”
Hawkins is a health and physical education teacher at Mount Washington Elementary School.
He’s currently working towards his Master’s Degree in Education from Trinity Washington University.
In his “free time” he likes to write poetry and is putting the finishing touches on a book titled “Dear Nolita: The Evolution of an Addict’s Son".