More than 2,700 miles lay between Temple and his Los Angeles home, yet Brian Reynolds still finds himself in a familiar state – limp and listless on an interminable bus ride, this time headed to Ambler campus for class.
“I’ve been on a bus since sixth grade … so doing this again is almost scary,” the freshman said. “I thought I was done with the buses.”
In South Los Angeles, the official euphemism for the blight once known as South Central, Reynolds would rise before the sun to catch his 5:30 a.m. school bus. Barring traffic delays, he arrived at class 90 minutes later.
As evident of his long haul to Temple, Reynolds was never one for taking short cuts and – to paraphrase Robert Frost – that has made all the difference. Reynolds said he would sometimes take the longer route if it meant avoiding skid row.
As a child, Reynolds had his head in the books, trying in vain to hide his eyes from the truth that was his drug-hustling father. His time spent with friends would be seen as a refuge, with basketball being a staple of their friendships. Although he said his interests revolved around studies and sports, his friends drifted on an all-too-common path.
“I saw my friends doing drugs and things like that, and it kind of didn’t interest me,” Reynolds, 18, said. “And I was like, ‘I got to get away from this.'”
He moved into his grandmother’s cramped three-bedroom duplex, where he often chose to sleep on the floor.. His grandmother grasped his academic potential and had him bypass the local middle school, where, according to the “Los Angeles Daily News,” 94 percent of students qualify for the federally funded lunch program, for one of the district’s top programs. It was here that he realized his escape to poverty was through education.
A shoulder injury during his junior year of high school kept Reynolds from playing basketball, but proved to be a blessing
academically. Still shelved during his senior year, he spent his free time looking and applying at colleges. He came across Temple on collegeboard.com.
“‘Let me try Philadelphia, just because of Allen Iverson,'” Reynolds said he told himself. “I can try to go to a basketball or football game, because I really didn’t go to one out there.”
Months after applying, he received a letter marked by Temple.
“The letter was in a small package, so I was like, ‘It’s probably just a reject letter’ because that was how the reject ones were,” he said. “When I opened it I was excited. I made my mind up as soon as I opened it. I didn’t think I was going to get in. I really didn’t.”
Not even with a 3.7 GPA?
A year earlier Reynolds received word of something far more heartbreaking than a reject letter. According to the Daily News article, after earning all A’s with one B his junior year, he was eager to share his high marks with his father.
He was never able to. A day after having the phone conversation cut short, Reynolds discovered his 37-year-old father had died of natural causes. Similar fates were had by friends.
“I’ve seen … I’ve seen a lot, but I try not to be around it too often,” he said.
Reynolds said he finds tranquility in his commute to Ambler.
“I’m not used that kind of scenery … it’s peaceful and it’s quiet,” he said. “I can just sit out there and think, breathe the fresh air. It’s pretty cool out there, but I couldn’t stay.
“I like the city life.”
Reynolds is currently undeclared, but is leaning toward majoring in business. Unlike his restless nights in South Los Angeles, Reynolds said he is having some of the best sleep of his life in his Peabody Hall dorm.
“I don’t know what it is, but I can actually sleep at night,” he said. “Usually I would wake up in the middle of the night, but I actually like it here.”
Steve Wood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.