To Antonio Franklin, growing up in Dorchester was like being in the middle of a war.
He was surrounded by guns, gangs and violence, and under the weight of negative influences, soon fell into that behavior himself.
After assaulting a police officer, Franklin served 10 years in jail. He remembers the day he went in, May 23, and how lost he felt.
“I didn’t really have any goals, no visions, I felt like my life was over,” he said.
But now Franklin has a second chance and he’s ready to make it count. At 31, he’ll be starting Bunker Hill College in the fall. In fact, he’s getting paid to attend college as part of a new program called Boston Uncornered, an initiative by the nonprofit College Bound Dorchester.
Boston Uncornered officially launched May 18 at a College Bound gala. Franklin was one of about 40 people in the initial pilot program. The program pays a stipend to formerly incarcerated and gang-involved students while they get an education.
“Lots of us want to pursue college, but when you have to choose between helping yourself financially or school, you’re going to choose to work… It’s hard to juggle both,” Franklin said. “With them helping us financially and with our education, it’s like killing two birds with one stone.”
For Mark Culliton, CEO of College Bound, the new program is about helping these specific individuals start a new path in life, but also about a larger goal of ending systemic urban poverty that holds these populations back from pursuing higher education.
“Boston Uncornered is about taking that crew from the corner to college and that process creates community change because they’re already the leaders that are pulling young people away from positive choices,” he said. “So when they make choice of college, not a crew, young people see that and engage.”
Culliton refers to people like Franklin as “core influencers.” The goal of Boston Uncornered is to talk to about 900 core influencers, recruited from Boston’s most dangerous “hot spots” with the help of the mayor, the police department, gang units, public schools and so on.
College Bound plans to enroll 250 students in college over the next three years through Boston Uncornered. Currently, the funds to pay those involved come from private dollars raised through foundations and individuals.
As former gang members get involved, the idea is that they will go back into those same dangerous neighborhoods to recruit and inspire others to follow a more positive path.
It’s not that these people don’t want to get an education and do better, Culliton said, but often that they don’t get the chance. He hopes more people realize this, saying that another point of the program is about “uncornering our own minds about who these young people are and what they're capable of.”
Franklin is already planning to help kids in his community so they don’t the same mistakes he did. He hopes Boston Uncornered grows and helps more people, like him, turn their lives around.
“Everybody deserves a second chance in life,” he said. “Don’t judge us on our past, on what we went through. Get to know us and you’ll see our purpose, what we’re trying to become if you just give us an opportunity.”