Things That Matter

A Florida Teen Has Overcome Immense Obstacles, Including Homelessness, To Become His School’s Valedictorian

Right now we are in the midst of so much change. There is so much going on in the world – from a global pandemic that has left millions of us in social isolation to a brand new social justice movement in the wake of murder of unarmed Black men.

We’re being bombarded with so much serious news, it’s hard to remember that there are still people out there leading powerful, incredible lives and making a difference.

One Florida teen has overcome all the odds, including years of homeless, to graduate from his high school as valedictorian and we need to celebrate and recognize this huge accomplishment.

Martin Folsom graduated at the top of his class after struggling through years of homelessness.

Since he was a child, Martin Folsom and his mother Melva have been in and out of homelessness, according to Jacksonville television station WJXT.

Despite all the challenges he faced through the years, Folsom managed to keep his focus on his studies — and his efforts paid off when he was named his class’ valedictorian and graduated from Philip Randolph Career Academy in Jacksonville, FL.

“It kind of gave me a jolt in my chest a little bit, so it was a good feeling,” Folsom said in a video interview shared by KTRK. “It means a lot and it gives me a sense of all I’ve done and all I have accomplished was worth it.”

After college – Martin plans to attend Valdosta State University – he hopes to one day work for the FBI.

Martin credits his mom’s dedication and compassion for helping him succeed.

During his time in high school, Martin’s mom recalled desperately searching for a place to live with her son.

“Martin and I were in downtown McDonald’s and literally had nowhere to go,” she shared with WJXT. “I was on the phone calling people, calling organizations, and by the grace of God, we got into a shelter that day.”

Even with an uncertain living situation, Martin didn’t let that affect his studies.

“I never thought to myself, ‘I can’t do this anymore’ or ‘I’m done with this,'” explained the teen, who served as class president from freshman year through senior year. “It’s always been, ‘Well, it happened again and I’ve gotta keep myself up and keep moving forward.'”

He was set to walk across the stage last week for graduation, but that was canceled due to the pandemic.

Still, he isn’t letting that damper his spirits — especially since Martin had to overcome hurdle after hurdle to earn the high honor. He and his mom have struggled with homelessness since he was a kid, and throughout his four years of high school. They became homeless while fleeing Melva’s ex-husband, who has since been sentenced to 40 years in prison for murder.

Within two years, the mother and son reportedly lived in different shelters across five states before setting in Jacksonville.

“It’s been a rocky road, been a lot of hardships, but seeing myself here right now, about to graduate and go to college, it feels good knowing that all the stuff I’ve done, it was worth it,” Martin said.

He served as the class president for his grade for four years straight, from 9th grade to 12th grade. Now he will go on to college in the fall — and says that will be a big day for his family.

“As far as I know I’m the first person in my family to actually get a college degree,” he said.

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