“I’m graduating at age 17,” says Hawthorne student Mallik Shaw. Then, in a tone so calm it almost passes for resignation, he admits, “I wasn’t supposed to.”
When he moved to Charlotte from Brooklyn at the outset of his high school career, Mallik brought with him a lot of baggage. Never a devoted student to begin with, one event sent him down a terrible path. Mallik’s best friend – and, according to Mallik, the main source of motivation to attend school – was gunned down at a party, the victim of a drive-by shooting. Mallik ran outside to find his friend still alive, but badly wounded. Banned from riding in the ambulance because he was not family, Mallik ran the three miles to the hospital, following the emergency vehicle the entire way. By the time the ambulance and the boy chasing it reached the hospital, his best friend had passed away.
When Mallik began to follow the same path, his parents moved him down to Charlotte, where he enrolled at E.E. Waddell. He was largely the same student at Waddell that he had been in New York, but he credits his time at the school with a major turning point in his life. It was Mallik’s guidance counselor at Waddell who suggested that he transfer to Hawthorne. After consulting with his parents and talking to counselors and administrators at both schools, the boy some would consider a lost cause made the move.
“It was difficult for me at first,” Mallik admits. “I had to actually come to school. But I was used to these classes of 80 kids, and now I’m in a class of 12. I got more attention, more help.”
That help and attention caught Mallik up to grade level and beyond. In 2011, guidance counselor Gwen Rogers told Mallik that he could probably graduate in June 2012 if he wanted to, a whole year early. This young man, who initially counted even coming to school as being extremely hard, committed to the work and time he’d need to put in. Just as Ms. Rogers promised, he’ll walk across the stage at Ovens Auditorium on June 12 to accept his diploma.
This summer, Mallik Shaw plans to return to Brooklyn, to visit friends and family. In the Fall, he’ll return to Charlotte and attend Central Piedmont Community College. His ultimate goal is to transfer to Winston Salem State University and study nursing. His aunt, an RN in New York, has been his chief inspiration. He sees her life situation as very inspirational. “I feel that becoming an RN is an achievable goal for me,” he says. “If I keep progressing, I can be an anesthesiologist.”
Mallik does everything that he can to help educate youth, especially young African-American males, who he sees as being in the same situation or on the same track as he was before transferring to Hawthorne. He’s active in his school’s chapter of Esquire, which revolves its activities around community service, social awareness and academic excellence. Off-campus he’s a part of YBM, an organization for the betterment of black youth. He’s helped put on outdoor retreats, participated in college tours, and volunteered at a drug prevention non-profit. And with this article, he believes that he is continuing to help by telling his story to other students finding themselves at a similar crossroads.
“I just want kids to know that change can happen. I was into a lot of bad things, skipping school, poor behavior, street life. Now I’m graduating.” Mallik pauses for a second before delivering his final message – as a high school student, anyway: “A lot of things can hold you back, but nothing can hold you down.”