Cleveland Schools Student Overcomes Obstacles to Keep Family Together

By Jacob Gedetsis

Quinton Wiggins, a senior at John Adams, like other students his age, has concerns for the future. Like many of his classmates, he has worked hard academically throughout his high school career, earning honor roll and a 3.0 GPA. However, unlike his peers his journey to get there has been laced with bumps in the road.  In July of 2008, Quinton, his mother and his two sisters found themselves on the streets without a home. As victims of domestic violence, they left their then home in Maryland and came to Cleveland. They bounced around shelters, cities, counties, and even states as Quinton’s mother, Ms. Sameka Cammon, searched for the best opportunities for her children. 

Recently, Quinton went through training to become a public speaker with the help of the Northeast Ohio’s Coalition for the Homeless and Project ACT—a program that aids homeless children. Quinton volunteered for this to learn how to better recount his story and inspire others.  He considers himself, “shy and quiet” but took this opportunity in order to break out of his comfort zone and improve his skills. He plans to take the things he has learned and go to local church groups and schools and to speak to them about his life.  He plans on speaking about what it was like to be homeless, how to survive as a teenager and what you should and shouldn’t do. He shared some of his experience with the Chronicle.

            Quinton and his family were homeless for about three years. “When I first realized I was going to be homeless, I was very confused. I had no idea where we were going most of the time; I was just trying to stay strong for my mother, and my sisters, being the only male and oldest sibling.” Quinton said, “I tried to keep my head high and tried to stay positive and console my sisters and my mother. It was hard—it was really hard—sometimes we had no where to go and we had to sleep in the truck for a few nights.”

In those three years, Quinton saw peers who were going through similar situations get involved in troublesome activities, including gang activity. Despite this, Quinton stayed uninvolved in those activities. He stated, “I didn’t want my mom to have to worry about me because I knew that she was busy trying to keep us safe and trying to find us a good house and good schools.” Quinton’s mother explains, “Throughout it all I haven’t had any trouble out of Quinton, compared to others kids in the many shelters that we have lived in, or in the communities where we lived; “I watched these kids just fall apart.”

            Travel was common for the family as they moved from shelter to shelter. In three years, they stayed in four different counties and briefly stayed with family in Denver, Colorado, before returning to Cleveland. “We moved a lot. That wasn’t a big deal for me, but my one sister didn’t like it at all. I like moving around so I didn’t mind it, “ said Quinton “I try to do everything for my sisters because it seemed like they were going through more than I was.  Quinton explained.  He said, Being the oldest, I tried to be understanding and supportive. That’s how it was, but not anymore.”

Through programs, the state, and outreach from the community, the family was able to stay afloat. Ms. Cammon said,” My only means of income was welfare, and that was running out.  I didn’t get any support from their dad…just a lot of help within the communities we were living in.  A lot of people reached out to us, very sincere, very genuine-- took us in clothed us fed us.”

A shelter in Akron introduced the family to Project ACT. The program gave them access to various activities such as karate classes and doll-making classes and offered outside activities to distract kids from their situations. When they left Akron to come back to Cleveland, they kept in contact with the director of Project ACT. Ms. Cammon sent a thank you letter to the director expressing her sincerest gratitude for all they had done for her children. She states that since the family has met the director and their staff they have “been a huge family…I honor them to this day”

            While the family’s life was a lot of things, it was not stable. “I wanted to create a stability somehow,” said Ms. Cammon. “When he started at John Adams, I knew it wasn’t the best place, but I wanted to build that stability for Quinton.” His hard work in the classroom and his mother’s willingness to homeschool her kids when situations were tough, has given Quinton the opportunity to succeed. He said, “Being homeless, it’s hard to catch up on academics… I learned to get by, but now I’m not just getting by; I am succeeding.”

Around 2012, Quinton’s mother found employment, and they have been living in low-income housing since then. Quinton has been a part of a program called Upward Bound. He spends time at Baldwin Wallace, where he works and receives mentorship from college graduates in order to see what college life is like. In the fall, he plans on applying to out-of-state schools, specifically one of the historically black colleges and universities. Ms. Comman said, “I’m just happy that he has an idea of what he wants to do with his life. Quinton quipped in reply, “It’s no longer just an idea; it’s a plan.”

If you would like to have Quinton come and speak to your church, organization, or school please contact the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.

Editor’s Note: Jacob is a senior at Benedictine High School and wants to be a journalist before that occupation disappears from the United States.

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle August 2013 Cleveland, Ohio