Richard “Tre” Jenkins and his family were living in a homeless shelter when his father experienced a heart attack and Tre’s chronic migraines got worse. It was around this time that he discovered Mighty Writers, a nonprofit that offers free writing classes to inner-city children in Philadelphia. He credits the organization for his educational successes and his later admission to Harvard University.
“Mighty Writers felt like a home for me,” the 18-year-old told Whyy Radio.
In the 6th grade, he didn’t have a home after his family hit hard times, and he remembers walking home with a friend who asked where his house was.
“That’s my house right there,” Tre told him, referencing the shelter. “The shelter looked like a big house – it could have been a mansion. I was so embarrassed to say I lived in a shelter. But that’s when I realized I’ve got to buckle in because I can’t have my potential kids going through what I’m going through now.”
The stress of balancing school, homelessness and his father’s sickness caused Tre to develop harsh migraines, which led to his being hospitalized in the eighth grade.
“They put me on every medicine they had,” he said in his Whyy Radio interview. “But I was eventually able to fight through it and get my work done because at the end of the day that was what was the most important to me.”
Tre found solace in the Mighty Writers organization. It was not only a place to go but also a place for him to thrive.
“I was actually upset that Mighty Writers didn’t happen on Friday afternoons,” he said. “Because I was like, ‘OK, so what am I going to do on Friday?’”
When it came time to apply to colleges, Tre was inspired to apply to several Ivy League schools. While on an educational spring break trip, he regularly checked on his application statuses with multiple browser tabs for the schools to which he'd applied. He learned he was a waitlist candidate at the University of Pennsylvania and denied by Yale, and he began to lose hope.
“In the back of my head, I’m already thinking ‘Okay, Harvard’s going to deny me too,’” Tre said. “And then I opened my Harvard tab, and there’s a link to a video saying, ‘Welcome to the class of 2022…’ I threw my phone!”
Tre will be majoring in computer science at Harvard on a full scholarship with the hope of creating a ‘more intuitive Siri.’ He advises other students stay focused if they wish to accomplish their goals.
"Stay focused and on the right track," Tre said. "The right track can be different for a lot of people but basically what you want to work toward, you need to be focused on that."