Rehan Staton gained national recognition for his inspiring story as a then-trash collector working long hours to help his family while attending college. Now, the soon-to-be Harvard Law graduate has paid it forward and launched a program for the school’s support staff.
“We text, we hug when we see each other, I call them aunts and uncles,” Staton told The Washington Post, adding he established a close relationship with faculty workers. “I have felt very safe, taken care of and loved, specifically because of the bonds that I have with my support staff.”
He continued, “When I see them, I see me,” he continued. “I view them as my equal. They are just my peers.”
As Blavity previously reported, Staton shared with several outlets his story of being “angry” and “hungry” because his family could not afford to pay the bills. He watched his household struggle at 8 years old with his mother leaving the country and his dad becoming unemployed and having to work odd jobs to stay afloat.
During high school, Staton had dreams of becoming a professional boxer. However, he later sustained a shoulder injury that was left untreated because he didn’t have medical insurance. He then focused on academics and applied to several colleges, but they rejected him.
Staton had run out of options and chose to work as a sanitation worker for a steady income and to help his father pay the mortgage. However, his colleagues knew he was too smart to collect trash and questioned why he chose that line of work.
“They would say, ‘You’re smart,'” Staton said. “‘You’re too young to be here. Go to college and come back if it doesn’t work out.'”
The Maryland native gained a new perspective on his job and made lifelong contacts with those who wanted to see him excel beyond a sanitation worker. His father and older brother, Reggie, also helped Staton in his academic career. He graduated from the University of Maryland and got accepted to Harvard Law in 2020.
Actor and filmmaker Tyler Perry heard Staton’s story and offered to pay his tuition to relieve the financial burden in his life.
“He had a tough upbringing but worked hard at a tireless job to eventually reach his goal,” Perry said in a statement to The Post in 2020. “He deserved being able to attend Harvard the last few years without having any future financial concerns.”
Three years later, Staton is set to graduate in May and found a way to give back to staff workers at Harvard. He launched Reciprocity Effect, a nonprofit organization for those he described as “unsung heroes” who work behind the scenes. The initiative would provide them with base grants and other resources.
Staton said he came up with the idea one day after chatting with a custodian in the hallway.
“She said me? I said yes you, how are you doing? And she said I’m sorry, I’m sorry, students don’t talk to me. Students would rather look at the wall then talk to me,” he recalled, according to WHDH. “I was kind of taken back, and I said, ‘oh I’m sorry, I’m going to talk to you though.'”
After that brief exchange, Staton developed a close relationship with faculty workers and knew he wanted to help them.
Brent Bates, the assistant operations manager at Bates Trucking & Trash Removal, was eager to help the former employee with the idea and became a co-founder of the organization, per the newspaper. He and his father also donated $50,000 toward the initiative to support others.
“I’ve never seen something come full circle like this,” Staton, 27, said. “The same sanitation company that changed my life, I came back to them, and they said, ‘We’ll be right there with you.'”
Several months later, Staton and a small group of students partnered and raised more than $70,000 in donations for the support staff.
Reciprocity Effect officially launched on Monday.
Staton was thankful for the support and those who helped him.
“No one does it alone,” Staton said. “Just keep paying it forward.”