Anthony D. Ross was 13 when his grandmother died and he became homeless in Washington, D.C.
He and his siblings tried living with their drug-addicted mother – without water, heat or electricity – but violence pushed them to run away, Ross said.
His aunts tried and failed to take care of him. So did an aunt’s friend, who had a family of 14 in a two-bedroom apartment. Ross said he was beaten and his name was fraudulently used for welfare benefits.
So he slept in cars and homeless shelters. His father was an absent mystery.
Ross’ story could have ended in tragedy. But no one should underestimate this young man’s determination.
Ross, now 25, worked his way out of the streets of the nation’s capital and went on to graduate magna cum laude from St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh in 2013.
His ultimate goal: “I want to be president of the United States,” said Ross, who continues to live in Raleigh. “That’s always been my dream and we’re not supposed to give up on our dreams.
“I’m going to show other people they can do anything they want to do.”
As a teenager, Ross said, he wanted to attend high school. But he quit school to work at Starbucks by day and Ruby Tuesday by night. He enrolled in a GED program when he was 16.
There, he met Ebony Lea, then the program director at College Bound, an academic mentoring program that prepares youth in Washington, D.C., to graduate high school and college and achieve personal and professional goals.
“Anthony is a very special young man,” Lea said. “The thing that impressed me about him when I first met him is he is tenacious and consistent. You don’t see that often in an 18-year-old in D.C., let alone an 18-year-old who has his particular background.”
Lea said she guided Ross through tasks he’d need to get into college and connected him with a mentor.
Ross burned midnight oil to teach himself higher level math via computer tutorials, and got live tutors to help him prepare for the SAT and ACT college-entrance exams.
“I just didn’t want to end up dead or in jail, and I was scared to get involved in gangs and drugs,” he said. “I was already at rock bottom. I had no room for error.”
In 2008, Ross’ mentor, Paul Brunson, drove Ross to St. Augustine’s University and settled him on campus. During holiday breaks, local friends and mentors made him family.
Ross, who was St. Aug’s student body president his junior year, has interned for former Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty and lobbied on Capitol Hill, weighing in on drafts of a homeless youth act. He’s been awarded academically and by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. He mentored at the Cornel West Academy of Excellence, a nonprofit in Raleigh.
“Being in an atmosphere of positivity, around positive, successful people motivated me because I wanted what they had,” Ross said. “It still keeps me going to this day, being around positivity.”
After college graduation, Ross temporarily put on hold an acceptance to law school to write his story, “Homeless at Age 13 to a College Graduate.”
Vince Rozier, a Wake County District Court judge who mentored Ross following an internship, published the book as a Christmas gift.
Ross has sold over 3,000 books and garnered more than 100,000 social media followers.
“I knew his story, but I also knew his accomplishments and that piqued my interest in seeing him succeed,” Rozier said. “He has a sense of purpose a lot of us are still trying to find.”
Lea said Ross is an example of how young people in unfortunate circumstances can turn their lives around.
“If you encourage, point in the right direction and give support along the way, they can achieve anything they want,” she said. “I still don’t think he understands all he’s accomplished.
“That’s good. You never want to settle.”