While they grew up nearly 900 miles apart, Courthney Russell, Jr. and David Roman share the common experience of overcoming circumstances and choices to find success. They realize their individual stories are not unusual and have chosen to speak about them as a way to build up the kinds of communities they come from.
Courthney was born in Fort Knox, lived in the US Virgin Islands for a time, and eventually moved to East Alanta, an underserved community devoid of options. His neighborhood taught him survival skills, but his family wanted more for him and made education a priority. Unfortunately, Courthney didn t always share this priority. By the time he graduated from high school, his tendency toward stereotypical behavior had him on a collision course with incarceration or death. In a last-ditch effort, he applied to medical school and was surprised to be accepted.
There he found a passion that was unquenchable and made the choice to dedicate his life to humanity. The road wasn t easy. He experienced homelessness which meant juggling the responsibilities of being a student and the realities of living on the street. As a result, he shifted his perspective and set his life in a new direction. He graduated in 2011 with a medical degree and a new mission: leverage his knowledge in a non-traditional way to become an authentic, determined, humble leader by example.
Today, this looks likes co-founding a nonprofit focused on serving the homeless in Atlanta by building relationships and meeting their health needs. Additionally, he (and business partner, David) runs WeUp, a company built on the idea of uplifting the community through hope and empowerment.
Like Courthney, David grew up in an underserved community, the South Bronx, with few opportunities for success. From a young age, he was exposed to drugs, prostitution, and drug violence. Embracing a negative cultural lifestyle was the best option for survival and one David chose at the age of 15. He ran away from home and found a “family” by joining a gang. He looked to those who had what he thought he wanted for guidance. This pursuit of an abundant cash flow eventually landed him in a juvenile detention center. His time there only led him deeper into street life.
Eventually he found himself trying to gain status through gun violence. The feeling that his own life was worth nothing made it easer not to value someone else s. The tables turned, however, when a bullet killed his unborn child during a robbery. In an attempt to deal with the pain, he became addicted to drugs and alcohol, losing more and more control over his life. He slept in abandoned crack houses until the sheriff came and seized the property, forcing him back onto the street. He found a shelter, but the emotional stress had taken its toll.
Overwhelmed by hopelessness, one afternoon he pulled out a box cutter with intent of completing suicide. From nowhere a voice spoke, “You have a calling on your life, David. But you can t serve two masters for you will favor the one and despise the other.” He realized it was time to make a choice: continue to be a dope dealer and tear apart his community or allow his hardships to become successes by dealing hope instead.
Using their experiences of personal struggle, Courthney & David offer hope and empowerment by speaking on the following topics:
• Circumstances: overcoming difficult family situations, abuse, homelessness
• Choices: the realities of drug abuse, gang involvement, and gun violence
• Education: its importance and the mindset needed to pursue it
• Entrepreneurship: the idea that no matter where you come from, you can be great