David Norman has endured many obstacles. Norman, age 67, grew up in Harlem, New York and fell into a life of crime and drug addiction as a teenager.

“I was a very shy kid, and I was also selling narcotics, and in that capacity you were taught not to show feelings,” Norman said. “One of the things I realized early was that when I got high, I was able to function socially, which was one of my biggest problems.”

As a result of drug dealing, Norman served multiple prison sentences while battling heroin addiction. After his last prison stint in 1995, Norman began to turn his life around. Norman took a job volunteering for a transitional services program which helps inmates as they transition back to society.

The job gave Norman a new sense of purpose as he began to realize his talents.

“That job changed my perspective. It let me know that I have something to offer,” Norman said. “I decided I would devote my time to working toward something bigger than myself.”

From there, Norman began to pursue his education, taking the first step on a journey to transform his dreams into reality.

After years of hard work and perseverance, Norman has achieved success. On May 16, 2016 David Norman graduated from Columbia University School of General Studies with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.

Norman has found a new mission in life. He works as a research assistant at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Norman has been drug-free for more than 20 years and mentors those who have been incarcerated.

“When my perspective changed, my life changed. Whatever happens outside has to begin inside,” Norman said.

Jowelle M. is a college student interested in sociology, political science, and Spanish. Aside from academics, Jowelle enjoys blogging, reading, music, and spending time with family. She is happiest when she is working with others to improve the community.