Genarlow Wilson was set to graduate this weekend with honors from Morehouse College in Atlanta with a degree in sociology, when he hit the snag that so many seniors run into just days before commencement: he learned he was short the total number of credits needed to participate in the ceremony.
Wilson has already enrolled in summer sessions to make up the nine-credit shortfall and will have completed all of his requirements by the end of July. He will participate in graduation in May 2013 and radio personality and philanthropist Tom Joyner will be the commencement speaker.
While disappointed at having to delay graduation, Wilson said he will not let this deter him from completing his degree and that it is an opportunity to encourage others who have hit bumps in the road to not give up.
“I hit a little speed bump,” Wilson told Nikki Woods of the Tom Joyner Morning Show, “but I remain positive. At first, I was a little hurt because I had worked so hard this year. … I want everyone to know that when you face some obstacles, you can’t let them keep you down. Sometimes you don’t get everything you want right away. You just have to work a little harder to get it.”
Wilson is just one of the many success stories created by the Tom Joyner Foundation, but he may be the best known.
As a 17-year-old, he was convicted and sent to prison in 2004 under a law intended to catch sexual predators having sex with children under the age of 16. He and a group of friends at a 2003 party at a hotel were videotaped having sex with two teen-aged girls, one of whom was 15. Wilson spent nearly three years in prison, part of a mandatory 10-year sentence upon conviction and a permanent listing on the sexual offender registry. Wilson decided to challenge his conviction, while several of his co-defendants pleaded guilty in exchange for reduced time in prison, but they still were required to be listed on the sex offender registry.
The law was later amended but the changes were not retroactive, which could have freed Wilson immediately. Wilson was ordered freed by the state Supreme Court in 2007, which declared his 10-year sentence “cruel and unusual punishment.” The charge was reduced to a misdemeanor and he was ordered to serve one year in jail. He was immediately released for time served.
The Tom Joyner Foundation then took Wilson under its wing and helped him enroll in Morehouse.
“If it wasn’t for the Tom Joyner Foundation, I really don’t know where I would be right now with my life. I don’t know what I have done,” Wilson told BlackAmericaWeb.com in March.
At Morehouse, Wilson and some of his friends started a group called Young King Care, with a goal of mentoring and offering support to Atlanta-area youths.