[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or most of his life, Derrius Quarles was told he wouldn’t amount to anything, he said. Teachers, foster care parents and what seemed like the whole world was designed to take the young boy’s chances away. But Quarles didn’t back down and despite an all too common, turbulent upbringing in Chicago, the young man raised $1 million in scholarships on his own to pay for college.
Now with his budding social business that shares his nickname, The Million Dollar Scholar, he is helping other kids follow his success story and earn scholarship money. “Overall, we have a responsibility to all students that are graduating out of high school. One of the biggest issues to access the higher education system is finances,” Quarles said.
Twenty years ago, when Quarles was only 4 years old, his father was killed on Chicago’s South Side. A year later, his mother lost custody and he entered the public foster care system where he would spend the next 12 years of his life bouncing from home to home.
Chances for trouble were often presented to the young kid and life seemed bleak, he said. When he was 14 though, he had enough. “I said, ‘how do I want to live?’ I did not want to grow up and be an adult and live in the same environment I did when I was a child,” he said.
Soon after, Quarles started buying candy in bulk and selling it to other students at school. School officials quickly reprimanded him but the fire had been lit, he said.
He began to apply for scholarships, spending countless hours in his school’s guidance counselor’s office after the last school bell had rung.
His hard work paid off and he earned more than a $1 million in scholarships from businesses and foundations like the Coca-Cola Company, the Gates Millennium Program and the Nordstrom Foundation. Shortly after while attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, he began his own business modeled after his experiences to help those who share them.
Million Dollar Scholar helps bridge the gap between youths and financial aid scholarships for college, he said. The business uses an online platform that gives students scholarship guidance, counseling and writing advice. A process that Quarles says overlooks many students in the public school system.
“Initially, I got the idea from going through the process myself. Totally paying for my entire education through scholarships,” he said. College was otherwise unobtainable, he said.
Recently, Million Dollar Scholar won $20,000 to invest into the business at the Miller Lite Tap the Future Competition. Quarles hopes to grow his business model and continue to help others who struggle to pay for college, he said.
He advises young people who want to go to college to recognize their own worth to be successful.
“Even when a plethora of people or things are saying opposite. That’s changed my life,” he said. “You need to have tenacity.”
This post is also available in: Spanish