Poverty can lead people to crime, to lose hope in life or give up on their dreams, but not Rehan Staton. His circumstances in life didn’t prevent him from aiming high and reaching his goals.
Rehan endured a lot of hardships that may cripple many. Abandoned by his mother at 8, his father solely raised him and his older brother. While growing up, the family struggled with paying the bills for even the basic necessities. The financial difficulties affected his grades and his seventh grade teachers thought that he had a learning disability.
“It’s not bad to have a learning disability, but it’s bad when they’re trying to claim you have it when what happens is that you’re just going through poverty,” he said. “I was hungry in class. I didn’t have food, heat, or electricity at home.”
Although I get credit for working hard, working was the easy part because that I could control. But I just happened to be around people who cared enough about me. —Rehan Staton
Rehan trained in taekwondo and boxing thinking it would help the family out of poverty. He won several competitions until an injury ended his career in martial arts. To make things worse, he got rejected from every college he applied to because of his bad grades.
With no clear options at hand, Rehan got a job at a trash and recycling company after high school to help his family. His co-workers urged him to continue his education and do more with his life.
“It was the first time in my life a group of individuals that weren’t my father or my brother just came around me and…really just empowered me, uplifted me, told me I was intelligent,” he recalled.
The sanitation team helped him to enroll at Bowie State University and with his grades greatly improving, he was accepted at Maryland State University. He continued to work while studying. Years later, his father suffered a stroke. His brother, Reggie, dropped out of school so Rehan could continue his. Rehan woke up at 4am to haul trash to pay for the medical bills and then hurry to go to classes. He sometimes had no time to change clothes for school.
“I just feel grateful to my brother who was willing to sacrifice for me,” he said. “That motivated me to do well in college.”
His desire to remove his family from poverty pushed Rehan to finish his studies. Not contented with his undergraduate degree, he studied for the Law School Admission Test with the help of his cousin. Five out of nine law schools accepted his application and his story quickly became sensational.
“When my story went viral, the media presented it as a happy story, something like ‘Garbage Man Applies to Harvard, Gets In,'” he said. “But I did it to save my family.”
His amazing story attracted renowned filmmaker, Tyler Perry, who offered to pay his tuition. Many law professors and attorneys helped mentor Rehan especially during the first year, which was during the pandemic.
“I couldn’t have done it alone,” Rehan said. “Without my classmates, my professors, administrators, and staff, I wouldn’t have been able to get through Law School.”
He added, “Although I get credit for working hard, working was the easy part because that I could control. But I just happened to be around people who cared enough about me. I got lucky – but I made the most of my luck.”
As a way to pay it forward, Rehan started a nonprofit called The Reciprocity Effect, which aims to support and honor workers at universities and corporate institutions. He raised more than $70,000 for the school’s support staff, including food servers, custodians and electricians. The nonprofit provides financial assistance to these dedicated workers in case of personal tragedies.
Rehan is now preparing to begin a job at a New York law firm, though helping people will not be far from his mind. “I didn’t want to change after going to Law School,” he said. “The allure is huge. I went to work in fancy places. I made cool connections and friendships. But I don’t want to forget who I am.”