ELYRIA — The military saved Glenn Faircloth’s life.
At age 17, Faircloth, now the superintendent of the Lorain County Joint Vocational School, enlisted in the U.S. Army, learned how to drive a tank and spent four years in uniform, seeing far-off places like Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, back on the streets of hometown of Dayton, his friends died or were injured in shootings and car crashes, having never had the chance to get out of the old neighborhood.
“Something higher” took him from the streets, he told a group of male students at Life Skills High School on Thursday. The school is an alternative educational facility for students who have struggled in traditional schools, are returning after dropping out or have run into other barriers to their education, such as teen parenthood.
The school’s “Workshop for Male Scholars” brought several guest speakers together Thursday to talk about “establishing successful avenues for a productive way out.”
For many of the students, that could mean getting jobs, going into military service or finding some way off the streets of Lorain County. And Faircloth and the Rev. Charles Howard got real with the students:
Life is not all about “getting money” but learning how to act right, be a man and do what’s right.
The catalyst for the event was all too real: 20-year-old Zachary Mason was shot and killed Oct. 1 outside an Elyria apartment. But while still mourning their lost loved one, the Mason family and Rev. Howard invited educators, employers and military recruiters to his funeral to give young men his age opportunities for self-improvement.
As a result, several young people found jobs, others took the ASVAB military aptitude test and one student returned to Life Skills to try to graduate, said Valerie Howard, Howard’s wife and Life Skills’ community engagement specialist.
“This is a time for change,” she said. “We are sick and tired of people dying.”
Faircloth survived growing up poor and angry, bouncing from foster family to foster family because his father was absent and his mother, brother and sister all were involved with drugs.
“I dealt with life far too aggressively for no reason,” and got the nickname “Pepper,” he said, because “I was always hot to go” and fight, Faircloth said.
Waking up after spending a night sleeping in some bushes, praying to God to take him away, Faircloth said something happened: A friend found him, gave him some clothes and a place to stay. Then he met an Army recruiter.
“The streets raised me. The military saved my life,” Faircloth said. “Had I not gone in, I would have been dead.”
Faircloth later enrolled at Central State University, attended both Miami University (Ohio) and eventually Harvard University. Now a father and educator, he told the young men they may think the present is important, but need to remember that “life is not a true sprint, it’s a marathon.”
Howard took a different route from Faircloth: His began with dealing drugs, which landed him in prison for nearly 12 years in the prime of his life.
He grew up privileged with both parents and not wanting for anything, but was lured into drug dealing because to him, “it was something new.”
During one stint in prison, “God intervened” in his life and he was paroled, promising to dedicate his life to Jesus Christ. But the road was hard: On the outside, he was still labeled a felon, a 30-year-old who had never had a real job before.
After lots of hard work, he got his degree in theology and became a full-time minister found success. He has since always been his own boss because “I knew nobody would hire me because of my past.”
Howard said his stepson called one day, having second thoughts about going into the military because he didn’t want to get killed or have to kill someone else.
“I told him, ‘Who do you know over there who got killed?’” When he got no answer, the reverend recalled asking his stepson: “‘Now who do you know over here, in Lorain or Elyria, who got killed. Start with your brother,’” who was shot and killed in Elyria in 2009.
His stepson “named 18 people,” Howard said. Leaving behind the streets that helped raise them, he said, is one way young men can escape a cycle of violence and drugs.
“Whatever you’ve done, you can change,” Howard said.
High school administrator Crystal Gorman said the teachers at Life Skills only get 20 to 25 hours per week with their students, but seeing them graduate and be successful is a feeling like no other.
“We want to create connections outside of school for these gentlemen,” encourage hard work and teach good decision-making skills, Gorman said.
The movement to improve lives of the young men will continue. A U.S. Navy recruiter will be on hand at the school today for one-on-one meetings with interested students, Valerie Howard said. Gorman said she hopes to get the young women of the school involved in similar programs.
“These are good kids,” she said of the 133 students in her school. “We want to impact a lot more kids. Word will spread.”