My name is Yohancé.
It rhymes with Beyoncé, starts with a Y.
Like too many young people, I grew up amid poverty, homelessness, gang violence and drugs. But unlike many others, I found success. I reached for the skies – literally – and became a multi-decorated graduate of the famed Air Force Academy.
At age fourteen, I ran away, but not from home—because I never had one to begin with. At school I participated in every sport, club, and after-school activity, so that when the other kids finally left, I could settle in for the night by my locker. I spent my childhood dealing with gangs, drugs, violence, and my mother's mental illness, but the real enemy was always poverty.
This is The Blind Side meets The Pursuit of Happyness, except this time the father is just a boy. I drag my little brother through hell with me, ready to sacrifice myself to keep him alive. Now that the story is complete, I have written it all down in this memoir: Underprivileged Overachiever: A Crenshaw Story.
My memoir tells a unique story with candor, irreverent humor, bad jokes, and open-hearted sentiment. I recall the colorful people – both good and bad – who played important roles in my life. I explain how a child was forced very quickly to become an adult – and learned it the hard way.
My life story has been the subject of several media stories, including The Los Angeles Times. But Underprivileged Overachiever: A Crenshaw Story gives me the opportunity in 250 pages to share the deepest details of my life that I have never shared before.
OMG. That was my reaction after reading the words and understanding the hardships endured and overcome in Underprivileged Overachiever: A Crenshaw Story.
For all the stereotypes of growing up in South Los Angeles, this is a no-holds-barred story how a teenager somehow made it to the Air Force Academy while being homeless and facing obstacle after obstacle.
It’s stunning for its truth and refusal to hold anything back.
I'm not a big fan of profanity but understand how it's used in sports and in life and used in telling this story.
I was an outsider and observer during Yohancé Salimu’s Crenshaw football days. He played on one of the most talented Crenshaw teams ever with the likes of future NFL players De’Anthony Thomas and Hayes Pullard.
As a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times, looking back it was his story of perseverance that should have risen to the top.
Fortunately, we all now get to look back and understand the depths of despair that he was able to overcome and the many kind people he ran into that helped him along the way.
Some of those same people, like his football coach, Robert Garrett, are still trying to help others in a world that's changing but also not changing.
This story is shocking for its honesty. It might need a warning label before parents allow their teenagers to read. But it's a compelling read and one that provides insights into today's daily struggles for families seeking a path to a better life.