From gangster to sailor to student
Military saves Jeremiah Glenn from gang life. Now it's time for school, maybe a law degree
Published Sat, Apr 19, 2008 12:00 AM

As land exploded around him on an Afghani hill in June 2004, Senior Line Company Corpsman Jeremiah Glenn listened for Marines calling his name, while he clutched an ultrasound image of his unborn daughter and wept because he thought he would never meet her. Glenn knew then he had to trade in his Navy dog tags for the one he wears now -- a color photo of his daughter, Taraya.

"We were up on a mountain in Afghanistan, receiving (rocket-propelled grenade) rounds from the Taliban or al Qaida or whoever it was, and I'm taking the ultrasound picture out and just crying," he said of the night his daughter was born. "That's when I said, 'God, if I can get back to the United States of America, I'm going to school and I'm going to use my brain, not muscle.'"

School took a back seat in Glenn's life after his father died when Glenn was 9. He ended up in a gang in his Alexander City, Ala., home, frequently getting into fights and other "crazy stuff."

"I really didn't know how to express myself when my dad died, and (joining a gang) seemed like a natural thing to do," he said. "But I saw how bad I was hurting my mom by the things I was doing, and that's why I joined the military -- they were the only ones that could straighten me out."

"It was probably vital to my survival," Glenn, 25, continued. "I'm not sure where I would have ended up."

After five years as a Navy corpsman attached to Marine Corps units, Glenn returned to Beaufort, where he had met his wife, Akelah, while serving on Parris Island. He enrolled at the University of South Carolina Beaufort and began pursuing a double major in psychology and business.

"My unit lost three Marines (in Afghanistan), but you've got to push through because there's nothing you can do about it," he said. "That's one of the reasons I chose to go into psychology, to learn about (post-traumatic stress disorder) and how that affects people."

His freshman year at USCB, Glenn was elected secretary general of the Student Government Association. His sophomore year, he became vice president and now a junior, Glenn is serving his final month as president.He plans to attend law school after USCB, and though he won't rule out a career in politics, Glenn laughs at the thought. But not everybody finds the idea funny.

"I always call him Mr. President," said James Gardner, who works with Glenn to provide youth leadership training through Antioch Baptist Church in Ridgeland. "I told him when I first met him that I could see him being America's first black president, but it looks like Barack Obama may just beat him to it."

Gardner, who serves on the Jasper County Board of Education, said he's doing all he can to expose as many children to Glenn as possible.

"We have so many -- particularly African-American -- males that are dropping out and do not see any hope, and with Jeremiah, if they take the time to listen to his story and spend some time with him, I think it can bring some hope to them since he came from such humble beginnings," Gardner said. "It gives an old man like me hope for my community."

To find time to mentor, work three jobs, spend time with Taraya and maintain his 3.9 grade point average, Glenn basically had to give up sleep -- "I found that sleeping is just a crutch," he joked. But mentoring children doesn't drain him.

"Doing stuff with kids doesn't take a lot of energy out of me because it's something I love ... allowing people to learn from the mistakes I made," he said.

Akelah said Glenn is a perfect person to mentor children because he's still young and children look up to him without being intimidated. She also said it gives Glenn hands-on experience that will be valuable when he graduates from law school.

"I have no idea how he does it all," she said.

Akelah also works and attends nursing classes full-time at the Technical College of the Lowcountry, so she and Jeremiah "see each other in passing a lot," he said. But they both say their hard work will be worth it in the long run.

"I believe in him and I believe in everything he's doing," Akelah said. "Everything is going to pay off tenfold."