Before I became involved with the Fulfillment Fund or better said, when the Fulfillment Fund became involved with me, my life was somewhat lost.
I was 13 years old and had begun being bused for junior high school from South Central Los Angeles, where I lived, to Northridge, in the San Fernando Valley. The school was predominantly white, which was very different from my elementary school that was mostly Latino and African-American.
I kept a lot to myself. I just did not know how to fit in. The year before, my family had moved from a different part in Los Angeles and I was adjusting to that neighborhood. I was not sure about many things: the school, getting up early to get the bus, the people I was around, or the new neighborhood, which had prostitutes and drug dealers at the end of the corner, two doors down from our house. Not to mention that my family was having problems financially and with my older brothers and sisters. I felt more alone with all that was going on and being the youngest of seven there did not seem to be much room for me in more ways than I would like to disclose.
I am not sure that I had a vision of my future because I was lost and the only thing that got me up every morning at 5 a.m. was that I liked school, even though I felt lost there as well.
One day my school counselor informed me that I had been identified by the Fulfillment Fund as a scholar and that we would be going to a college fair. Honestly, I did not even know what a scholar was and my melancholy seemed to be present with me like an old coat that you don’t want to take off. Nevertheless, I agreed to go to the college fair and began to feel how interested the Fulfillment Fund was in me.
There was a spirit of warmth and care and enthusiasm about my life, and about what it could become, that I had just not felt before. I still felt lost but now it felt okay to be lost and there was a safe group of people who seemed comfortable with me not knowing what I wanted to do or be, but were eager to help and support me with whatever I wanted to do. I had never felt so many people excited about my life and it felt good!
Not only that, the Fulfillment Fund helped to make a transition or build an emotional and mental bridge from my neighborhood to the upper-middle-class, predominantly white school I was attending. This was a crucial bridge because it helped me to understand that where I lived did not determine where I would end up or what I could do with my life. The American dream became more tangible. I began to understand what school peers talked about when they talked about going to college. The Fulfillment Fund set the road map for my college career by educating me about the courses I needed for college and at what grade level it would matter. They provided that extra support that I needed badly and, as they say, the rest is history.
I continued to attend the college fairs and the events; musicals, graduations, and even went to the Sun Valley Writer’s Conference. It was those outings that opened my eyes to see more of the world and that there was so much more to learn. I finished high school a year early and went to college out of state, to all places, a predominantly white college, but no longer felt lost or scared.
I faced the challenges with a wider view of my life and society. I initially majored in pre-medical studies because I wanted to give back, and what better way than by healing people. However, after finishing my degree in biology early, I was lost again. I decided to go to seminary. The Fulfillment Fund continued to remain in contact and was always happy to hear from me. I always wanted to return to California and when I finished my master’s degree in theology, I applied for a doctorate in psychology. I was accepted to Rosemead School of Psychology at Biola University in La Mirada, California, and completed my master's degree in 2005 and my doctorate in clinical psychology in 2008.
Today, five degrees later, with three wonderful children and a beautiful wife, and over 50,000 miles of traveling, life is good. I have no complaints and nothing but gratefulness to the Fulfillment Fund for helping me to see my life outside of myself and believing in me. They saw great dreams for me. Now I work to help other people see those great dreams for themselves as a psychologist, working in the neighborhoods where I grew up.
Dr. Raphael Romero is a clinical psychologist with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.