"Five years ago I happened to be working with a girl. Every time I went to her house I would see this boy. All I knew at that time was he was 15 years old. Each time I would arrive at the house I would see her friend. This young man was so friendly and always quick with a smile. The day I planned on taking this girl to Boys Town, the boy asked if he could come. I told him "˜yes' as long as his parents didn't care. When I pulled in to pick them up the boy came out looking like he was dressed to impress. With one problem, he had on slippers. I asked him where were his shoes and he said he had none. In shock I said that's fine lets go. The whole time driving I felt sad and pulled over to a store and bought him a cheap pair of shoes. After we finished our tour I started to ask him questions! Where were his parents? Where did he live? To my surprise this is what he told me.
"¨He had been abused as a child and all his siblings had been adopted out. This older women adopted his older brother and him. Things were okay until she decided to move to Texas and left him to fend for himself. He was only 15. He had no ID, SS Card or birth certificate. She left him with no money or forwarding address. He had no choice but to find the family he had been taken away from. Night after night he would go from one house to another. Holding onto very few possessions including his photo album. What makes this story unique is this boy went to school everyday attending North High. He avoided the gangs and the drugs. He slipped through the cracks because he didn't get in trouble. It seemed as if no one cared. One time I asked him how he could remain so happy. He said, "because I have hope and why shouldn't I be happy!" Looking back at him it took everything I could not to show him my tears. He was finally placed in a foster home. It wasn't the kind of home that anyone of us would want. The house was old, the walls and floors dirty with exposed cinder blocks. His mattress dented from a previous occupant showed years of wear but he was happy just to have a place to stay.
In May 2012 he graduated high school with honors. Instead of a big party he silently celebrated his first accomplishment! He walked proudly off the stage greeted by his former middle school teacher Mrs. Anderson, waved to the crowd and that was it. He had bigger things to look forward to because he had won the Susan Buffett Scholarship. A full ride to UNO.
Cornelius is the first one in his family to ever go to college. As that summer ended he called me the night before he was to move into his dorm. He had no one to take him to college on his first day. I also found out he had nothing to take with him except a few bags of old clothes. He had no new sheets, pillows, comforter, no alarm clock, no towels nothing but himself and the little treasures he had carried through his life. His former middle school teacher Kat, her mother, my mother and I took him shopping. We wanted him to feel like every other college student! That year he struggled not over grades but lack of money sometimes calling me and telling me he had no food. I invited him over for Christmas and every year Santa makes a personal visit. Little did I know but he had never seen Santa or sat on his lap until then. The littlest things I took for granted were things he cherished.
This year I watched him return to college his sophomore year, with a smile on his face and a dream to change the course of his life. This boy who is my hero hopefully will go on and inspire anyone who meets him. What's even neater is he is both Native American and African American and has paved the way for future generations to follow.
Despite all the hardships he has faced he is a role model for all of us! He is a HERO. We are starting this fund to help him, he still needs things such as money for laundry, car repairs and insurance, dress clothes for job interviews and food, the dorm's cafeteria is not always open. "¨When you think you haveyou have it bad remember what Cornelius has overcome!"
As a teacher I have know Cornelius since he was in skinny wisp of a kid in a 7th grade art class. We were doing self-portraits and the emphasis was on culture. The students could do home culture or ethnic cultural images to make the portraits more personal. Corney told me he was Native and I shared with him my fathers best friends name that was as well. It turned out that he was from the same people. He would ask me questions and I would ask my fathers friend and pretty soon we had so many that I was told by the older Native gentleman to go the library and get a specific book about the tribe. The next year word got out that I could get information and was genuinely interested in this particular tribe by other native foster kids. I was inundated with questions. Finally after two years we had compiled so many questions and answers someone suggested I write a book. The book is totally inspired by the very gracious meeting of my father's friend Logan Fontenelle and Cornelius on a day of discovery that the social studies teacher Jeri Moritz and I designed. It incorporated, taxonomy thanks to Mr. Goolsby, math beadwork, and Native games. We had a speaker and it was a huge deal. Cornelius was Logan's official school guide while he was at school that day. Turns out Logan and Corney are related. Stories I had heard as a child about the reservation were told to Corney and I recognized the names it was very magical. Corney asked him questions and from the ones the students had and things Logan wanted me to teach or tell Cornelius the book was born. Logan and I worked on the book until before his death. I had always hoped Logan would get to tell the story in schools but now I know its Cornelius who must live this legacy. My hope is that funds raised would allow him to go and speak about himself and the book he inspired.
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