With the right amount of focus, determination, and support, it is possible to overcome the worst circumstances and make positive changes in your life. This is especially true for Renald "Ren" Moore, valedictorian (summa cum laude) of Texas Southern University's Winter 2016 graduating class of 800 students. After serving nearly 20 years in prison for shooting a man to death over a drug deal gone bad, this aspiring rapper and actor has two degrees, a bright future ahead of him, and a story to tell.
Moore led a troubled life growing up in Studewood, a neighborhood in Houston, Texas. Known back then as Reynoll White, he was raised for most of his childhood by his grandmother and step-grandfather. The 1980s brought with it an epidemic drug culture which plagued Black communities across the United States. He was constantly being told that he was dumb and wouldn't amount to much. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Moore explained, "When I was growing up, people told me I was dumb. I believed that. I internalized that."
Before long, Moore started getting into trouble with the law. He shared in an interview with the Huffington Post that, “The first time I was arrested was back in the 8th grade, that was for a fight in school. My first drug possession case was back in 1989 when I was 14 years old.”
By the time he had turned 18, Moore had been arrested, spent time in the Texas Youth Commission juvenile correction facility in Crockett (Texas), and led a team of street hustlers selling crack cocaine. In June 1993, Moore got into a dispute over a bad batch of crack where he says his life was threatened. He shot the man several times and landed himself in prison for almost 2 decades thereafter.
Moore realized that he had to make a change. While incarcerated, he attended college classes and earned an Associate's Degree in Liberal Arts. He explained further in his Huffington Post interview, “I resolved in my mind and turned to God, prayed, and asked God to help me better my life and help me straighten my life out,” Moore said, recalling his days contemplating his path in prison. “I was forced to take that long, hard look in the mirror that a lot of people have to do when people confront their demons. I let a lot of people influence me to do the wrong things.”
Upon his release, however, he moved in with family and struggled to find work. Being a reformed felon, even with a degree, didn't exactly open doors. After a dispute with his uncle, Moore found himself homeless, staying at shelters like the Salvation Army and the Star of Hope, and even sleeping at the Metro Rail Station and under the Pierce Elevated. He vowed that he would stay on the straight path rather than fall into old habits.
When he was 39-years-old, his mother encouraged him to pursue college and find himself. Texas Southern University was the perfect place to do just that. With some help from the organization that facilitated his return to civilian life, the love and support from the TSU family, and his unshakable resolve to make a life for himself, Moore found himself a constant presence on the Dean's List while grabbing coveted roles in campus productions.
He didn't even know how to use a computer when he arrived on campus and really struggled to find his footing during his first year. The university's Office of Disability Services helped Moore fight through depression. At every turn, there was someone to help him every step of the way.
Moore's 4-minute message to his graduating class during the commencement rehearsal was met with a standing ovation from his classmates: "All of you had to go through something...never let anybody tell you that you can't make it." Hat's off to you, Ren Moore. Respect.