Nelworth gets a hug of support and wide smiles for being accepted into West Point. He's had a life of turmoil, but says, "I always use past experiences as motivation ... not as an excuse not to do something." (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times / April 8, 2010)
By Ann M. Simmons | LA Times
April 9, 2010 | Adversity has stalked 18-year-old Tyki Nelworth. His mother is in prison, his father is deceased, and for years he was bounced from home to home.
But the senior at Washington Preparatory High School in South Los Angeles kept focused on his academic goals. He took Advanced Placement classes in English, calculus, biology, chemistry and physics, and nailed a 4.23 grade-point average.
Last week, he got his wish: He was accepted and received a four-year scholarship to the United States Military Academy.
"For me to make it to West Point, that's a big statement," said Nelworth, who plans to study engineering at the academy in upstate New York. "It means the sky's the limit."
On Thursday, members of the high school's alumni association joined a group of current students, faculty, parents and other guests at a special "Principal's Breakfast" to honor Nelworth.
"We've watched you display amazing resilience, strength and determination," alumni board member LaQuitta Cole told Nelworth. "You have been an inspiration to everyone you come in contact with, and your efforts have not gone unnoticed."
The soon-to-be cadet was then presented with donations totaling several hundred dollars to pay for his Advanced Placement tests, his senior dues and transportation to West Point.
He also received two prom tickets, a prom tuxedo, gift cards, clothes and shoes -- donated by alumni, community groups and local churches, among others.
"I'm just overwhelmed," said Nelworth, tears streaming down his cheeks. "I honestly didn't know that there were so many people that cared for me. It's something I definitely won't forget."
Confronted with the tough streets of South L.A., Nelworth could easily have fallen into a life of gangs and crime. He had little money and few clothes, and there were always plenty of illicit temptations.
But he chose to aim high.
"I always use past experiences as motivation . . . not as an excuse not to do something," he said.
His wake-up call came the day his sister told him he had been "born a crack baby," Nelworth said. Such infants, who are affected by drugs in the womb, are often developmentally slow.
"That was a pivotal moment in my life," Nelworth said. "I knew I had to keep pushing. I had to become somebody."
Something a pastor once told him became his mantra: "Victory is won by struggling against opposition. Victory is something you have to get up and take charge of."
But it was not an easy journey. Nelworth and his mother, a native of Belize, moved several times over the years, he said. At one point, he was taken away from her because of child neglect.
He lived with an uncle in Los Angeles for a while and then with his older sister in Alabama. When he was in the seventh grade, his father died. Nelworth said he was living with his mother when she was evicted two years ago from her rental home. Earlier this year, she was convicted on drug-related charges and sent to prison.
Nelworth, who once lived in a converted garage, now lives with a cousin and his girlfriend.
Despite a turbulent home life, he never neglected his studies. He graduated from Henry Clay Middle School with straight A's, recalled teachers at Washington Preparatory.
In high school, Nelworth has also enjoyed success in sports. He is captain of the football team, plays baseball and has run track. Last year, he was elected president of the student body.
"For this young man, academics are first," said Todd Ullah, principal of Washington Preparatory. "He cares about people, and that shows in his academic work, the respect he shows for teachers. And he never misses an assignment, never misses school."