Jair Hilburn, Editor-In-Chief
In an interview full of laughs and a couple of tears, there was a lot I learned about this year’s Man of the Year: LeAnthony Freeman. He is a man on campus that isn’t as involved in campus life but that doesn’t mean he’s not being proactive with his time. Freeman started his own organization Y.A.L.E. (Youth Acquiring Leadership and Excellence) Academy after the idea popped into his head when he was “laying in the bunk” in Miami, Fl. At the time, he didn’t know what it all meant, he knew that it was something that was his own. After going back to Buffalo, NY, he knew he couldn’t stay because he believed he’d be dead or in jail.
During his high school career, he was kicked out every year which lead him to not graduating. His parents thought that he had anger problems, so he was sent to an insane asylum. Afterwards, he went to Barry University in Miami was later kicked out for fighting prior to being arrested. Eventually, he found that the common thread in all his troubles was himself.
“I made some poor decisions, Freeman said. “I ended up some places that I didn’t want to be. What I realized was the common thread for me was the lack of character, the lack of moral integrity, the moral standards. “I feel as though there is a need for that in our culture. Getting money is great, but if you go home and you’re still a horrible father, a horrible son… it doesn’t matter what your bank account is looking like. Our standard for character in this society has gone down, and we need to raise that.”
With his life experiences and the ones of the students in his program, he noticed it wasn’t just for students. He saw teachers suspending kids without understanding what was going on in the students’ lives which as a result showed why they would be lashing out.
Even though Y.A.L.E. Academy has had great strides by partnering with My Brother’s Keeper and Best Academy and Fulton County by assisting in their GED program, one of the best things seen come out of it is the growth of the students.
“I guess the best thing for me is anything relative to the students because that’s what I’m here for [and] them trusting me because the students that I deal with have trust issues,” Freeman said. “A lot of parents or family members have let them down, so the fact that [they] trust me means a lot. You love me as much as I love you.”
“And them being receptive to my love.”
The journey for hasn’t been easy because old habits die hard because when his pockets get low he wants to resort to his old habits he doesn’t. “I can’t compromise all that I’ve built because they are other people involved at this point,” Freeman said. One of those people being his three-year-old daughter that he adopted when she was only three-days-old.
Last time he was arrested, it was for drinking and driving when he was 24. He already had two DWI’s. He’s a recovering addict. He went to Narcotics Anonymous at 18 and quit smoking weed at 21. “They say you substitute one drug for another, so after I put the weed down, I picked up the liquor,” Freeman said.
When he was at court, he was shocked when his lawyer asked if he was ready for sentencing. He met an older man and realized that he’s missing out on his daughter’s childhood. At that moment, he decided to turn his life around.
“That was the real pivotal moment for me because at this point, I’m not just living for myself,” Freeman. “There sacrifices that must be made and decisions I must change for the betterment of her. That’s my world. I’d be damned if I miss out because of my own.”
Earlier in the semester, Dr. Nathan Alexander went viral for taking care of a student’s child while he was teaching class, and LeAnthony was in that class. As he reflected on the moment, tears started to develop as he began to feel those emotions of pride for seeing another man take care of his child – especially in front of younger men.
“These young brothers need to see this,” LeAnthony said passionately. “You’re doing well not just for you and your daughter but for these young men too because not a lot of young men see representation like that.”
It touched him more because he couldn’t talk to his daughter and he “missed [his] baby” which led to more tears from LeAnthony as he reflected on how he felt. Even though he can’t see her, he still knows he has to be that example for her. From trudging through the snow to get her medicine to seeing her take her first steps, the relationship he has with his daughter is one he can’t let go.
“It’s my obligation [to be an example] regardless of what’s going on right now because it’s gonna come a day where she can make her own decisions. It’s gonna come a day where she’s gonna see that I still have her pictures and that I’m holding onto them,” LeAnthony said while fighting back tears. “It’s my job. I’m the only dad she knows. I want her to be proud of me.”
After we dried our eyes, we talked about how he was planning to take a trip to Israel and reflected on his religion. He grew up Baptist but later on started to identify with being Muslim.
“I separated from Christianity at 21, and when I did it, I was trying to disprove everything,” LeAnthony said. “But as I matriculated throughout my life, I realized that your truth is truth and that should be perfectly okay.”
It took him four years to graduate with his two year degree from Erie Community College because of what was going on in his life. He had a 2.4 GPA and wrote his life into the entry essay and would call everyday to make sure that he was going to get into Morehouse College. The decision to apply came after interning in Buffalo,NY; his mentor, Rashied McDuffie, suggested that he apply to some schools.
“The day I received [admissions into] Morehouse it was like a movie… because it was a struggle,” LeAnthony said. “I’m a first-generation college student. I didn’t see no way out because a lot people from my city don’t get out.”
When he first got to Morehouse, he stayed in Athens, GA, so he had to commute for an hour and a half every day. He would be on campus at eight in the morning and wouldn’t be home until two in the morning because he would be at the library since he didn’t have a laptop. At a certain point of his matriculation at Morehouse, he was homeless because he couldn’t afford a place to stay, so he would explain his time at Morehouse as an uphill journey.
“I think you gotta fall in love with the process,” LeAnthony said. “I feel as though I’ve overstayed my welcome. Obviously, there’s something here I haven’t received yet. Who am I to say my time here is up?”
While he’ll still be at school because he’ll be graduating in May 2020, he will be holding onto his faith once his time at Morehouse is over.
“Sometimes you don’t know what’s in front of you, but you have to trust the process and walk,” he said.
When asked how it felt to be nominated for Man of the Year, he said that it was humbling and honoring.
“Coming from where I’ve come from any accolades is big,” LeAnthony said. “Let the world tell you, I wasn’t even supposed to be here, so now to get recognized for some things that I’ve been doing. I’m grateful because that attests to the work that I’ve been doing and something that somebody has seen in me that I didn’t see in myself.”
“I may not see the greatness in myself, but other people do.”
After being given some context to the theme of the magazine, LeAnthony decided to give some of his own. He was a part of an African rights of passage journey in the summer. He had to restart after failing to abstain from particular vices. When asked how he felt after restarting, he realized something.
“If my life was a book, would I want it to read any other way,” LeAnthony asked. “Would I want the champion to have it easy? If these is the champion that we have – the leader of the people, I wouldn’t want him to have it easy; he’s not strong enough to do such task to lead the people. When you say to me ‘What does it mean to be an Olympian?’ here goes my life.
“It’s about the times in which I thought I was going to jump off the cliff or I was pushed off the cliff and somehow I flew or sometimes I rolled and still got back up.”
When it’s all said and done, he feels as though he is an Olympian, but his journey has only just begun.
“I definitely feel like my story’s not done. I feel like this is just preparation to more struggles, more trials, more tribulations, but more successes.” LeAnthony said. “I think the majority of my story to come will reflect [that I am an Olympian.]”