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Finding a Reason to Trust

By Meital Caplan
November 26, 2018

Robert Emmons joined OneGoal as a Fellow in 2009 looking to improve his life and his community. Almost 10 years later, he’s completed the program, experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows in college and given back by joining OneGoal staff. As he looks toward his next professional step, he now reflects on each step of his journey and how they defined him.

I grew up being able to love plenty of things. For example, I love the first snowfall of winter. I love playing basketball in my community. What I wasn’t able to do for most of my youth was trust. I didn’t trust that my gas would be on in the winter. I didn’t trust that the friends I had would be my friends for life. I didn’t trust that my internal flower would ever come to full bloom. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I lashed out and when I transferred to Perspective Charter School of Technology as a sophomore, I came in with a cold GPA of 1.2.

Still, I started this new school determined to change. And when I was told that I should join Us Empowered (now OneGoal), I took the chance and got in.

Our cohort of 12 incredible and diverse students had at least one thing in common: we all wanted to go to college. We didn’t care what the statistics said about us, we cared what we said about us. Yes, we were all low-income, first-gen, and historically under-resourced, but we were still champions of resilience. We became a family. Our community extended far beyond that classroom and was housed within our souls. Because of that community and an abundance of hope and hard work, each and every one of us was enrolled in college at the end of our senior year. Five of us (including me) headed to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign together.

During my first three years at the University of Illinois I was able to completely live into my life’s purpose, achieve my best grades and dip my toe into advocacy. I began to trust that everything was going to go well. Then during my fourth year of college my life collapsed. I had a major falling out with my family. I battled depression. And then, the world as I knew it stopped. OneGoal Alumnus, my college roommate, my best friend was shot and killed on the Southside of Chicago.

There aren’t enough words to truly explain the misery I found myself in so I’ll keep it simple: I hit rock bottom. I lost all faith during this time of my life. My grades declined back down to what they were during my freshman year of high school. I felt responsible for my friend’s death. I no longer had purpose. I dropped out of college.

But life goes on and I took a great job. I met the love of my life, and now wife, Brittani. I found myself in a comfortable place. But still felt a constant nag that something was missing: a college degree. When I reached out to OneGoal for support, in typical fashion, so many people jumped on to help out. They also helped Brittani get back into college even though she wasn’t a OneGoal alumnus because they truly want to see every young person graduate.

Through incredible determination, we graduated together from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign with degrees in political science in 2017.

In looking for a job, I wanted to work in an environment where community was at the center of everything we do. Because I had been through the program and witnessed the brilliance of its people, I knew OneGoal was where I was supposed to be. In the same way that my cohort members and I once laughed and cried together, so did my OneGoal teammates. In the same way that resilience and love played a role in the success of me and my fellow cohort members, they played a role in our community as staff members these last two years.

I loved my time at OneGoal, but I feel pulled in a new direction that will allow for me to extend love and hope in a new magnitude. I’m looking to continue representing and pushing for my community, whether as an elected official or on a different track. I can feel comfortable walking away from this job because OneGoal isn’t about being a forever nonprofit, it’s about doing the work required to accomplish a mission of educational equity and empowerment. It is in that vein that makes OneGoal a movement.

While I said goodbye to OneGoal as a staff member, I’ll be a OneGoaler for life.

I truly believe that this movement will change the direction of our country and spark a new hope. God sent OneGoal over and over again throughout my life. He and OneGoal gave me my best friend and an opportunity to make sure that this life mattered. For me it has always been easier to love than to trust. I found trust in OneGoal. That trust allowed me to grow and expand on who I was. I used to get kicked out of my French class in high school. Just yesterday I was in France with 70 world leaders for the Paris Peace Forum. That trust allowed for me to give my internal flower permission to bloom. And man is it blooming.