‘Achieving the unthinkable’: Highbridge teen tells of his journey to higher education

He was bullied most of his life, dealt with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts and his best friend was murdered, but in the fall, Michael Jones will be attending college.
Courtesy of Michael Jones

He was bullied most of his life, dealt with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts and his best friend was murdered, but in the fall, Michael Jones will be attending college.

The teen will not only be making the leap to higher education, but traveling across the country to Portland State University to study creative writing.

Jones, 19, a Highbridge resident, has come a long way from when he struggled socially and emotionally as a child.

“Leaving the Bronx is definitely hard and exciting at the same time,” Jones said. “It’s not the best place. It’s just not for everybody. I wanted to get away as far as possible.”

In fact, at the age of 14, his best friend Christopher was gunned down a few blocks from him.

“I couldn’t sleep that night,” he recalled.

Jones, who lives in WIN supportive housing, grew up in a rough area. He was bullied in elementary and middle school, which caused depression, anxiety, low self esteem and eventually suicidal thoughts. He told the Bronx Times he did not care about school or really anything at all.

He sought help from teachers and his principals but they brushed him off. The only person who was there for him was his guidance counselor, who allowed him to eat lunch in her office every day.

“She was there for me throughout my time in middle school,” Jones recalled.

Things improved in high school. He left the Bronx and went to high school in Manhattan at Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis High School. After his sophomore year, Jones switched to the Institute of Collaborative Education in the city, which he fell in love with.

“That school definitely boosted my perception on the world,” he explained.

The teachers were nice, treated him well and it was like living in a different world. But what impacted him the most was when his patents Johnny and Mozelle sought out help from a therapist.

Meeting with a mental health care expert for the past year or so and taking medication has made him feel much better.

“I would definitely encourage people to go therapy,” he said. “The point of therapy is to really go there and accept the fact that life is hard.”

While he doesn’t have the best relationship with his mom, he sees how hard she battles her lung disease and knows if she can do that, he can succeed.

His father has taught him to be independent because as a young Black man, the world can often be cruel to him.

“My parents influenced me with their strength and passion,” Jones said.

When he realized he wanted to go to college he set high goals. He applied to and interviewed with Harvard, Columbia and Duke. In fact, staff from WIN helped him buy a suit, rent a van and came with him for his interview at Harvard.

While it was upsetting to not get in, he still envisions great things for himself on the west coast. He noted he is a bit nervous as he did not get a chance to visit the school due to COVID-19.

“As an LGBT person of color, I am motivated by a lot to pursue my dreams,” Jones said. “From past experiences, I have encountered like the death of my beloved friend, my mother being diagnosed with a chronic lung disease, my father suffering from multiple heart attacks, and even attempting to give up on my own life, all has really benefited me in many ways. Because of these experiences and their learning lessons, because of the people who support me and believe in me, I continue to motivate myself to achieve the unthinkable.”

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