Rehan Staton is frustrated and exhausted as he worked to support his father and brother.
However, neither his family nor his co-workers at the Bates Trucking & Trash Removal sanitation company could watch him give up on himself.
And today, Rehan is not only a college graduate but is heading to Harvard Law School this fall.
Rehan was born and raised in Bowie, Maryland.
His mother left his father when he was 8 years old. After she left, the family of three faced financial difficulties as Rehan’s father tried to raise his two sons on his own.
Rehan’s dad struggled to keep their house, juggling two or even three jobs at a time to keep the bills paid.
By the 7th grade, Rehan’s academics had significantly declined under the pressure of his family problems.
“I wasn’t eating meals every day and my dad was working all the time,” Rehan recalled. “Sometimes there’d be no electricity at home.”
Despite his broken home life, Rehan found some relief in athletics and trained in boxing and martial arts.
Rehan continued to improve academically while training to be a professional boxer in high school.
But, his dreams were cut short when he suffered a double shoulder injury in the 12th grade. His hopes of going pro after graduation were crushed.
Rehan hurriedly applied to a number of colleges before the year was out but was rejected from every school he applied to.
“That ended up just not working in my favor,” he says. “So, I ended up going to work as a garbage man.”
“It was the first time in my life people were lifting me up for the sake of lifting me up and not because I was good at sports,” he recalls.
Rehan’s co-workers were often trying to figure out why he was there and would suggest he go to school or do something else. All of his colleagues at this time, with the exception of senior management, were previously incarcerated.
His colleagues eventually spoke to Brent Bates, the son of the owners of the garbage trucking company, about the smart young man on staff. Bates soon took Rehan under his wing and brought him to Bowie State University to meet a professor.
The professor was impressed by his conversation with Rehan that he appealed to the admissions board on his behalf. Rehan began undergrad later that year and earned a 4.0 GPA.
As Rehan reflects on his growth, he credits his time as a garbage worker for helping him see his potential. It is not lost on him that some of the people now familiar with his story might view being a sanitation man as a low point in his life. Plus, Rehan never felt more supported than he did during that time.
“Throughout my entire life … all the people in my life who I was supposed to look up to were the ones who always downplayed me and made me feel bad about myself,” he says.
“I had to go to the ‘bottom’ of the social hierarchy — that’s to say formerly incarcerated sanitation workers — in order to be uplifted.”
“When I look back at my experiences, I like to think that I made the best of the worst situation. Each tragedy I faced forced me out of my comfort zone, but I was fortunate enough to have a support system to help me thrive in those predicaments,” he said.