Cadet to share his story of overcoming odds at Academy's national symposium

By: MIKe HOWARD Special to The Gazette
March 10, 2014 Updated: March 10, 2014 at 7:20 pm

An Air Force Academy sophomore cadet who grew up in a Los Angeles ghetto known as Jungles will talk about the experience this week.

Yohance Salimu was a homeless teenager who knew he might never escape poverty.

Salimu will talk about overcoming adversity during the Air Force Academy's National Character and Leadership Symposium on Thursday and Friday at the academy.

He joins about 20 speakers from around the country, including actor and activist Mike Farrell, retired Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz and four other cadets, to talk about character with students from more than 50 colleges.

His message will be simple, Salimu said: "Do not accept mediocrity."

"It is a long and hard process, but there is a way out (of poverty)," he said. "I could not accept the consequence of mediocrity because it would have meant never getting out."

Salimu, 20, said his life once revolved around getting food and finding shelter. He has 16 siblings in a blended family.

When Salimu's elderly father fell ill, he said, the family became homeless.

"I didn't want anyone to know what was going on," he said, "so I kind of bounced around from one friend's house to another during my freshman year of high school.

"I eventually went to the homeless shelters with my mom and younger brother," he said.

While looking for a college engineering program where he could get a full-ride scholarship, his Internet search led him to the academy.

He quickly became discouraged, though, when he learned how difficult the application process would be.

An educational mentor in his high school encouraged Salimu to get a job to support his family while pursuing his college dream.

He worked, and helped his now-widowed mother get into an apartment.

And he didn't quit pursuing his dream in Colorado Springs.

An officer from the academy assisted him with the application process and Salimu was accepted in 2011, starting at the Air Force Academy's Preparatory School.

Salimu said he once was embarrassed about his circumstances, but that embarrassment has been replaced with pride.

"I want my story to motivate people to overcome the challenges in their lives," he said.

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