My hometown has shaped my journey more than anything else.
To this day, I carry it with me wherever I go. The neighborhood, the scars, the experiences.
So, to start off, let me tell you a little bit about Oakland, California.
In my neighborhood, it was very common for people to fall to a life of crime. As a young boy, I just learned it was the norm – the drugs, the violence, the gangs, the poverty. I never knew any different.
One morning when I was six years old, I learned that you couldn’t escape this life, even when you chose to stay away from it.
This particular morning, I got out of bed, walked into the living room, and saw my entire family in our house. I was confused.
But then, my uncle pulled me aside and said six words that I’ll never forget.
“Raymond, your dad just passed away.”
Later, I found out that he was shot in the streets.
At that age, I knew what death was, but I had no clue what this actually meant for me and my family. It wasn’t until the funeral that it really hit me.
It was time to grow up. Quickly!
I had to mature so that I could help out my mom and my two brothers. So, my brothers and I split the ‘man-of-the-house’ duties.
When you grow up in Oakland, you really have two options.
The first is to work hard on your goals and dreams. See the bigger picture and go for it.
The second, which was the more popular choice for many, is to join the life of crime. Do something illegal for a quick $500.
Fortunately, I went for option #1.
I surrounded myself with like-minded people that shared a similar attitude. And man, that was so important. We always helped each other stay on the right path. There are so many temptations, seriously. Every day, it’s so easy to fall victim to these temptations.
My older brother, for example, wasn’t blessed with such a strong support group. He’s in jail right now because he got involved in a bad situation. Falling into the wrong crowd can completely change your path.
I also count God and faith to my support group. Without God, I would have never made it out of Oakland. Every week, I went to church with my great-grandma. We attended Bible study and Sunday mass. She even bought me a suit and stuff. To this day, I take my faith pretty seriously, you know?! It’s guided me through some very dark times.
When I take a moment to look back and reminisce about this defining time of my life, it’s crazy to think about what God, my friends, and my family have done for me.
I mean, my father was killed when I was six years old. I’m not supposed to play college basketball at one of the most prestigious schools in the country, right? That’s not what usually happens to kids like me.
But because I made it happen, I feel a calling to show boys and girls who experience a similar fate, that it’s possible to get out of Oakland. I want to be a role model for them.
My way out of Oakland was basketball.
I spent my first three years of high school playing at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland. I played for Coach Lou Richie, who is still one of the best coaches I’ve ever had.
For my senior year, I had the opportunity to go to Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada. It was a really well-known prep school. So, I took the opportunity and moved to Nevada.
And man, I’m so glad I did, because Findlay Prep led me to Coach Oats and eventually the University of Alabama.
Initially, I committed to Buffalo while Coach Oats was still there. But, just a week after my commitment to Buffalo, he took the job at Alabama. And he wanted me to come with.
I did what any teenage kid with a huge decision would do. I called my mom.
It was good to hear her thoughts on this. I always knew I wanted to follow Coach Oats, but it really put me at ease when I got my mom’s blessing. She didn’t tell me what to do. She just told me she understood and that I had her full support in whatever I chose.
Even after the discussion with my mom, I was still a little nervous about coming to Alabama. After all, I hadn’t really looked at the school. I didn’t really know what I was getting into.
But how could one of the best football schools in the country not be a great place for any student-athlete? That’s what went through my mind. I knew Alabama must have state-of-the-art facilities and great resources. So, I decided to give it a shot.
I mentioned my support system that helped me stay away from the life of crime earlier.
But, I have not yet talked about the most important person in this group – my mom.
She is, without a doubt, the biggest reason why I’m here. She worked so hard for me and my siblings, to give us the best life possible.
Now, I want to turn the tables. I don’t want my mom to have to work another day in her life once I leave Alabama. My goal is to provide for all the women in my life – my mom, and both grandmas. They all played such pivotal roles in raising me. And they all deserve the world once I make it big.
So, now that I’ve been given this amazing opportunity at Alabama, I need to make the most of it. I’m going to grind every single day to make a name for myself in college basketball and beyond, so that one day, I can be a role model for the kids in Oakland, and provide for my family.