Former Harlem Drug Dealer Graduates From Columbia University
David Norman did something most of us only dream about. He graduated from Columbia University. But Norman’s road to success wasn’t like most.
The 67-year-old was a former drug dealer in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City and was jailed several times over the course of his life before deciding to turn things around and graduate with his bachelor’s degree in philosophy. The New York Daily News reports that by the time Norman was 11 years old, he had already begun drinking and was using heroin before the age of 15. He only attended one day of high school and instead started dealing drugs to get by. “I had a 35-year run with addiction,” he told the Daily News. His big revelation came when he spent six years behind bars at Mohawk Correctional Facility in Rome, New York, after being charged with manslaughter. Once there, he filled his time by reading books, learning Hebrew, and helping “run a program that taught life skills to inmates preparing to return to society,” according to the Daily News. “I had a moment of clarity in which I was able to recognize everything I had done at that point was fairly counter-productive and I needed to engage in some new activities and some new behaviors,” he said. Once a free man in the year 2000, he was able to get a job with Mount Vernon Hospital as an outreach worker, which led to working with a community health program at Columbia University. Through the university, he was allowed to take seven credits a semester and thus began his higher education journey in Columbia’s School of General Studies 10 years ago. Despite being about 40 years older than his classmates, Norman got along with everyone. “I had a good rapport with the young people because they always amazed me,” he told the Daily News. Norman now works at the university as a research assistant for the School of Public Health and mentors ex-cons in his spare time. He also said that his graduation day was one to remember. “It was a great feeling,” he said. “I’m just now starting to come down from my little high. I had to wash my clothes yesterday. That brought me back down.” The Daily News reports that Norman wants to write a book about his experience and name it, You Don’t Have to Wait as Long as I Did.
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