Overcoming Barriers: Social Work Graduate Moves From High School Dropout to Masters – Today @ Wayne
There are many reasons why Brandon Mays should not have obtained a Masters of Social Work and Graduate Certificate in Alcohol and Drug Abuse from Wayne State University. He dropped out of high school, grew up in a tough neighborhood, struggled with health and even ran into trouble with the law.
But Mays never let any of that stop him. For all the reasons he shouldn’t have been successful, he found a reason he should. Whether it was the support of his family, his own dedication and hard work or even a book by Judge Greg Mathis, Mays made his own path and not only graduated, but also took speaking as a speaker at the Wayne State Winter Ceremony.
âI can’t believe I passed the masters program,â Mays said. âI can’t believe I’m a beginning speaker. This is just a testament that you can make a difference. You can manifest your dreams. But faith without work is dead, you’ve got to do your part. You can always talk about what you want to do. You can still dream of doing whatever you want to do, but you really have to take that step forward. I just want to be an inspiration to others, just to let them know it can be done.
Growing up in the city of Detroit, Mays’ college career got off to a very rough start. He said he never knew the importance of school, so he didn’t take it seriously from the start and eventually gave up.
âI grew up in a drug-infested and violent neighborhood,â Mays said. âJust being subject to some of the influences of this neighborhood, you’re kind of drawn to what you see. I’ve never been on a bad road,â but the wrong options and it was all still there. Even during those times, my mom always supported me and always told me that I could do whatever I wanted. “
Mays moved to Georgia after giving up to find a new life, but was still not in a good place. Mays completed his GED in Georgia but still encountered obstacles, but after reading Greg Mathis’s book Downtown miracle, he was inspired to do more to reach his full potential.
âHe’s from Detroit, so there were a lot of similarities that I can relate to,â Mays said. âSome of his stories, some of the hard love his mother must have shown him, getting him locked up because he was stealing things around the neighborhood – it was a real motivational book. I didn’t think I could relate to anything in a book.
Even with his GED, Mays wasn’t sure if he would ever go to college and ended up being convicted of a felony for carrying a concealed weapon.
It wasn’t until his twin brother Brian chose to attend Wayne County Community College (WCCC) that Mays decided they could do it together.
âMy brother and I graduated from WCCC together in 2011,â Mays said. âIt was also an important step in our educational career. We weren’t in competition, but we kind of motivated ourselves at the same time.
After earning her associate degree, her younger sister, Tia, inspired her to continue her education as she earned a bachelor’s degree, graduating from Wayne State with a social work degree in 2013.
âIt was a motivation and a spark, just to let me know there was something better out there,â Mays said upon seeing his sister graduate.
Mays originally wanted to enter occupational therapy after his mother suffered a stroke, but the program was closed at WCCC. So he switched to social work because he always wanted to help people.
âAt the end of the day, I just want to give back and help,â Mays said. “I saw my mom go through her personal struggles. I just know that life is about relationships, and if I invest in that, I’ll be better off in the long run.”
Mays received a BA in Social Work from the Mercy University of Detroit, where he also received the Dean’s Gold Key Award and was a fellow of the Kappa Gamma Pi Honors Society and the National Honor Society of Leadership and Success.
In addition to their support, Mays’ family also taught him how to give back. Mays volunteered for âRâ Recovery, an addiction recovery walk, Capuchin Soup Kitchen, and at Central United Methodist Church, where he helped feed and clothe the homeless.
âI love giving back, seeing the joy on people’s faces, especially helping them and you’re not trying to get something in return,â Mays said. âMy mother always taught and instilled in us, treat others the way you want to be treatedâ¦ she often took us there (United Central Methodist Church). We did a lot of volunteer work there, just giving back to the community. I have met some of the people I have helped and they remember me.
Mays said his entire family – mother Shirley, father Kenneth and siblings Connie, Kenneth, Brian, Tia and Kelley – know the importance of education. Kelley even recently got a doctorate. in Marriage and Family Therapy from Amridge University.
âWe’re very committed to affirmations, so we send each other positive affirmations through group text,â Mays said. âWe support each other no matter what. “
After Mays graduated with a bachelor’s degree, he decided to take his studies further and obtain a graduate degree. He enrolled in Wayne State as part of the upgrading program.
Mays appreciated the professionalism of Wayne State’s teachers, who treated him with respect and gave him confidence that he could be a social worker.
âMy personal experience with the teachers is that they are building professionals,â he said. âIt’s not the teacher versus the student. ‘You failed that test, you have to take over. Or you don’t get it, maybe next semester?’ No, if you had a hard time with something they really take the time to help you. The teachers just explain why we are here, our goals as social workers and our ethics. “
Mays hit a bump in the road when he ended up in the hospital, but his classmates and teachers were able to help him retrieve it.
âWhen I was in the hospital, I had classmates who motivated me,â Mays said. “By telling me: ‘Think positively, use this energy to praise God and give thanks despite your situation.’ So that’s what I did.
Mays hopes the fear of health is behind him. He is also working with his brother Brian, who graduated in criminal justice, to have his criminal record cleared. And from there, Mays hopes to start helping people right away.
âI’m a outgoing person, so if I can find a job that I love, like Confucius says, you’ll never have to work a day in your life,â he said. âMy long-term goal is to open a small facility where I can do individual and group therapy. I’m just trying to help those struggling with addiction. I like to prove people wrong – you can literally go from nothing to anything.