Lessons From Hillbillies & Homeboys

From humble beginnings, my father modeled legacy-changing behavior.

A Journey Worth Sharing

I recently welcomed the largest group of students—new and returning—to The Victory Project (VP). When welcoming new students, I love to share my journey, spanning from my time as a police officer to becoming an entrepreneur and leader in inner-city missions.

And that is how I’ve done it for eleven years—well, until recently. With these students, I went back even further. I began with my grandfather’s journey.

Meet My Grandfather

Monnie “Curtis” Bush, my dad’s father, was born into a difficult life in the South. From an early age, he labored in the coal mines, eventually dropping out of elementary school to earn money for his family. By the 1950s, Curtis—married with two children—saw the writing on the wall: good-paying jobs were becoming scarce in Appalachia. In the North, it was a different story. Large, quickly growing companies offered excellent wages and benefits for a hard day’s work.

So, Curtis moved his family to Dayton, Ohio. Although this would seem like an exciting adventure, it was not an easy decision. Every generation before Curtis’s made a living in the South. It was something of an homage, and a move to the North meant breaking with this decades-long tradition.

A School WHAT?

At this point in sharing my story, I like to ask our students to finish this sentence: “Once in Dayton, my grandfather found work as a school…?” Students shout; ‘school teacher, school principal, school administrator. After they try a few answers, I help, and watch as dismay fills their eyes: “school janitor.” Yes, Curtis Bush moved his family to become a school janitor. It’s not what people expect when listening to a story of success. But that’s the best part: it is that and more.

Breaking More Than Tradition

Curtis sought to provide for his family, so he pursued the opportunity. He may not have realized then, but his courage and resolve to break tradition avoided what was likely to be a curse for his children who would have grown up in a community with ever-dwindling resources.

Carrying on a family tradition only makes sense if it’s life-enriching. Anything else perpetuates a generational curse.

And his decision to drive North changed the trajectory of my family’s legacy, starting with my father, Monnie Lee Bush Sr.

A Father’s Example

Seen here with his classmates before relocating, my father encountered new educational opportunities after moving North. The son of an elementary school dropout would don a cap and gown for his high-school graduation—the first in his family’s history.

Monnie Sr. served in the Marines, later working for General Motors until his premature death in 2004. When my father became a father, he continued building upon what his father began. It allowed my siblings and me to reach levels of accomplishment that previous generations only dreamt of.

Legacy-Changing Decision Making

Curtis Bush’s story exemplifies how one influential person making one difficult decision and following through on that decision can change his family’s destiny.

Many of VP’s students have seen how my family’s story relates to theirs. Even though they are not isolated in a holler (mountain valley), they are just as confined to a poverty-stricken housing complex or half-empty, crime-riddled neighborhood. They may not know about one-room schools down the street from coal mines in Appalachia, but they see a community where a solid education and good-paying jobs are more difficult to find than trouble.

The holler and ghetto have more in common than most realize. People from these two seemingly different worlds share a similar story. Traditionally, they were the heart and soul of our nation’s workforce building healthy middle-class communities, lifting tens of millions out of poverty. But today, they’re among the nation’s most marginalized. This must change.

Through our 3E curriculum (education, entrepreneurship, enlightenment), The Victory Project helps students take hold of their God-given abilities and puts them on a path where they can become legacy changers in their families.

And I’ve seen firsthand that being a legacy-changer doesn’t always require a four-year degree. What it does require is deciding to leave what feels normal, but is actually a dead end, to pursue what is different and difficult to enrich one’s life.

Many of the young men who join The Victory Project first think that leaving their neighborhoods happens only by becoming a sports icon or entertainment star, which means the deck is already stacked against them. Then, if all else fails, a life of crime becomes a real option.

When they join VP, we show them a different way to define success. We model that the trades and the military can provide opportunities to break the cycle of generational poverty. And while pursuing secondary education is a must, it need not be college.

Meet Daylan

Daylan was a thirteen-year-old VP student with a GPA of 0.15. During the next three years at VP, he worked at his academics, developed a strong work ethic at our small business, and was an overall joyful young man. And he did this despite a difficult environment beyond The Victory Project’s walls.

When Daylan graduated from high school, he had lifted his GPA to 4.33. He began a good-paying job at a local hospital. And he has since taken advantage of his employer’s educational reimbursement, obtaining his Commercial Driver’s License, and is about to start a higher-paying career.

Two Different Broken Worlds. The Same Legacy-Changing Story.

Curtis Bush, an Appalachian coal miner turned successful school janitor, and Daylan, an inner-city flunky turned successful truck driver. They’re both legacy changers who put their families on new paths.

One hero, Booker T. Washington, said it best:

“Success is not to be measured by the position someone has reached in life, but the obstacles he has overcome while trying to succeed.”

Every family has stories like these. Hard-working immigrants, urban dwellers, and mountain people daily sacrifice their comfort and generations-long traditions for the shared dream of building a better future for their families. These are the values Victory Project models as we redefine success and prosperity for our students and alumni.

Become a Legacy Changer

Dear reader, it’s time we challenge our nation’s narrow narrative of success. It’s time we confront the marginalizing notions of who gets to become successful. It’s time we see that living a satisfying life starts by recognizing our commonalities and working to build better futures together.

Learn more about The Victory Project and how you can share your time, talent and treasure with others.