I’m Lawayne Orlando Childrey, a 2005 graduate of Jefferson State Community College. I begin my story by posing a question. How does a troubled, black gay youth from the Deep South grow up to become one of the most respected news journalists in the country? Some may say it takes a considerable amount of talent, hard work and determination. But for me it also included an immense struggle through a deep sea of adversities, including a crack cocaine addiction and an HIV diagnosis.
At the age of 4, I survived a deadly house fire that claimed the life of my 3-year-old cousin. Between kindergarten and second grade, I was repeatedly sexually abused by a close family friend and forced to watch my mother being beaten by the same man. Despite those traumatic events, as early as third grade, I had dreams of becoming a news reporter. But as fate would have it, distractions left me blindsided.
Being the only child of a single mother, I found myself hanging with the wrong crowd. I began shoplifting and engaging in devious behaviors, but unlike so many of my peers I never landed in the juvenile justice system.
Throughout high school, I excelled in my studies, winning numerous poetry and oratorical contests. However, I flunked out of college, ended up in a number of abusive relationships, and as a young gay man was spiritually and emotionally broken and dying from AIDS.
By the time I turned 30, I was the primary caregiver to my mother, who had lung and brain cancer and was now suffering from a series of strokes that left her partially paralyzed. I loved her dearly, but the concerns over her health as well as my own left me in a deep depression. To cope I turned to drugs, first marijuana, then crack cocaine. Finally, I convinced myself that the only real solution to my problems was suicide but I didn’t have the courage to pull the trigger of a gun or swallow a bottle of sleeping pills. I had hoped the crack would eventually burst my heart and subsequently, I’d end up dead.
By the grace of God, that was not the case. At long last, I decided to return to the faith that had been instilled in me since I was a child. In quiet desperation I whispered, “Lord, people are always saying you can do anything but fail. Well, if that’s the case please come and rescue me right away.”
Life as I had known it changed that day. I checked myself into an intensive drug and emotional rehabilitation facility. After several months of therapy, I emerged as a new man determined to fulfill my true purpose in life, which is to speak God’s word. Not as a preacher speaks to a congregation from a pulpit, but as a man who humbly tells the stories of how his own broken life was restored, renewed and redeemed.
At the age of 40, I enrolled at Jefferson State Community College, eventually becoming a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. I also won numerous forensic speech contests and graduated magna cum laude with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Radio and TV Production and Broadcasting. Since then I have had the privilege of serving as Senior News Reporter/ Producer for Mississippi Public Broadcasting, which serves an audience of 2.8 million people and is a statewide affiliate of National Public Radio. Industry leaders have honored me with more than a dozen Associated Press awards, and a national Edward R. Murrow Award for Journalistic Excellence. I only mention those accolades as proof that regardless of how hopeless things may seem, if you believe in the Lord and yourself, you can still achieve your dreams. However, I also realize that fulfilling my childhood dream would never have come true without the training, support and other opportunities I received from my beloved Jeff State.
God placed it in my spirit years ago to tell the story of how he restored this broken vessel, making me whole again. My deepest appreciation is extended to the Alabama Community College System for allowing me the opportunity to tell it. As I share my story, my journey, my truth, it is in no way meant to glorify myself. Instead it is my sincere prayer that God will use it as a beacon of hope for men and women seeking to make a positive change in their lives as well as in the lives of others.