After experiencing homelessness on the streets and shelters of Raleigh for 20 years, Michael Watkins says it feels surreal to be in a doctoral diploma program.
Throughout these twenty years with out a house, Watkins admits he typically feared he would not get up every morning – and typically, he says, his friends did not. However even battling primary wants like discovering meals, discovering a spot to sleep and battling drug dependancy, Watkins says a love of serving others and a need to make an affect on the world finally pushed him to make a giant change.
As a young person he had advised his mom of a lifelong dream to earn a doctorate diploma.
“My mom at all times pressed upon me to go for it,” he stated.
However when she died, he noticed his life was not headed the course he had initially dreamed.
“I used to be wanting within the mirror and I spotted I did not acknowledge myself. I needed to be another person,” he stated.
As quickly as Watkins determined to vary his life, he hit the bottom operating – and as his sources grew, he started utilizing them to assist others. He did not realize it then, however he was on the trail to 4 faculty levels – together with his present doctorate program. And in time, even President Obama would thank him for his lifetime of service to these in want.
Volunteering in catastrophe zones to assist newly-homeless households
Whereas he was nonetheless working his approach out of homelessness, Watkins bought busy coaching to be an emergency response volunteer with the Pink Cross, touring into catastrophe zones the place households have been confronted with a actuality he knew all-too-well: Homelessness.
When he traveled into Alabama and Louisiana to assist after Hurricane Katrina, the unfathomable quantities of ache and loss he noticed put his personal struggles in perspective.
“The issues I noticed – and smelled – have been unbelievable. Once we bought to the bridge, there have been mausoleum elements. I noticed mould that regarded like a forest, actually. You could possibly scent it for miles,” he stated.
He noticed our bodies coated with tarps within the streets. He handed out meals and water to these in want. However his major job was to interview those that survived, to permit them catharsis by telling their tales.
“The tales I heard… of heartbreak, loss, dying. We did this 12 hours a day. On the finish of each day, most of us have been crying like infants,” he stated. “However, though we could not change the whole lot they misplaced, it was an honor to be there for them and do what we might.”
Watkins went on to volunteer with the Pink Cross throughout the Texas floods in 2016 and the Oregon wild fires in 2020.
He says service to others is a good way to make sure he by no means focuses an excessive amount of on his personal worries.
When he holds up a thanks letter he bought from President Obama, honoring his work, he beams.
“I by no means thought I might get one thing like this,” he stated, voice cracking with emotion and satisfaction. “I by no means thought I might get right into a PhD program both.”
Information from Our Sneakers: A newspaper for the homeless group in Raleigh
Interviewing these in want was second-nature for Watkins, who had based a newspaper by and for Raleigh’s homeless group a number of years earlier than.
On the time, Watkins was in transitional housing on the Emmaus Home in Raleigh. He needed to create a publication that may permit individuals residing in homelessness to have a platform – to showcase their skills, to make use of their voice and to assist break stereotypes about individuals with out housing.
“Every part that was printed was executed by people who have been homeless, all of the paintings, poetry and writing. It gave them an opportunity to indicate off their skills,” stated Watkins.
The Carolinian newspaper printed 3,000 laborious copies of Watkins’ paper, referred to as Information From Our Sneakers.
Watkins saved working his personal approach out of homelessness, whereas concurrently utilizing what he was studying to assist others.
“One of many pitfalls of shifting out of homelessness is studying to belief others once more. So many individuals will not even look you within the eye whenever you’re homeless,” he stated.
By means of his work within the newspaper, he started connecting with individuals who would assist elevate him up.
“I linked with a household that got here to the shelter and needed individuals to come back have Thanksgiving at their house. I did not need to go at first, did not need to be the subject of another person’s Sunday dinner,” he stated. “However they enveloped me like they’d identified me for years.”
One after the other, Watkins met individuals who pulled him nearer to his goals.
“So many people who find themselves homeless, we want a hand up, not a hand out,” he stated.
Alongside his awards, levels and letter from Obama, Watkins has a wall of images of the individuals who helped form his life into what it’s at the moment.
“We do not do it alone. We do it collectively,” he stated. “Every day, I get up and I make good selections as a result of I need to make them pleased with me. I need them to really feel I used to be value their funding.”
Graduating from faculty – time and again and once more
Changing into Dr. Michael Watkins has been his life’s dream.
In 2015, he made the courageous determination to return to high school.
“I used to be scared! I used to be sitting with all these younger college students, and I felt like I did not slot in,” he stated.
He started with an associates diploma in medical workplace administration. A photograph of him in a cap and robe confirmed up on his social media feed, and dozens of encouraging feedback rolled in.
“Though I used to be pleased with that accomplishment, I needed extra,” he stated.
So he transferred to Campbell College – a school he’d at all times dreamed of attending. He graduated in 2020.
“Once more, I used to be pleased with that accomplishment, however it was not but sufficient,” he stated. “So I started pursuing my masters at Walden College.”
He simply graduated in Could of 2022.
He has only one extra accomplishment left to pursue: A doctorate diploma.
He was accepted into that program this 12 months, and intends to be Dr. Michael Watkins inside two years.
He says he is nonetheless scared and hardly believes how far he is come. Now, as a substitute of sitting amongst college students 20 years youthful than him, he is sitting amongst medical doctors and surgeons – nonetheless feeling intimidated, however nonetheless as decided as ever.
“All these high-level consultants, and right here I’m: Only a former homeless man who’s going again to high school,” stated Watkins.
As he research healthcare administration amongst his professional-level classmates, Watkins believes he has a novel perception to supply the healthcare world: Uncovering gaps in medical look after individuals experiencing homelessness. He hopes to pursue this analysis, discovering one more approach to assist serve these in want – simply as different individuals helped him.