There was a candle burning that night. That's one thing Donique remembers. His father was holding the candle so that he and his five sisters could see. The family's lights had been turned off for months.
"Pack as many clothes as you can," his dad said.
Donique was 10 at the time, still reeling from the recent loss of his mother, who had died of a heart attack. He didn't believe it when he saw her lying on her bedroom floor, he says, he just assumed she would wake up. His dad hadn't been the same since: He'd stopped paying bills and rarely came home.
The house was freezing that night winters in upstate New York could be brutal. Eventually, his father told him they were leaving, moving to Maryland to live with Donique's aunt. Soon after they got there, Donique says, the man left and never came back.
Donique's older sisters helped raise him, pushing him to get his homework done and stay out of trouble. There were plenty of days when he didn't get to school on time, but he always had his mother's voice in his head.
"I want you all to do better than I have," she'd told her children. "I want you all to graduate from high school."
For awhile, Donique slept on the couch at his sisters' apartment. Two years ago, he joined The National Center for Children and Families' FutureBound Independent Living Program (FILP), designed to help prepare 16- to 21-year-olds for life on their own. He moved into his own FILP apartment, got a job, and started saving money. Sometimes he sat and wrote poetry he had one of his poems tattooed on his arm.
Strength does not come from winning.
Your struggles develop your strength.
When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is your strength.
On graduation day in May, just before his 20th birthday, Donique walked across the stage in a green cap-and-gown. "I was about to cry, but I held it in," he says. "I didn't want my sisters to see me with a tear coming down my face."