James Ward (courtesy of Jessica Sutherland)

Who is James Ward?

Born and raised on the tough streets of South Los Angeles, James Ward, 19, is a young man who has had a difficult start. Even at such a tender age he has already experienced the harsh reality of homelessness and uncertainty of multiple sheltered accommodations.

Despite numerous setbacks, which have meant attending three different high schools in four years, Ward worked hard to keep up with his good grades.

Why is James Ward on theGrio 100?

In February 2012, Ward, along with his mother and his two younger siblings, secured a place at Union Rescue Mission (a homeless shelter in downtown Los Angeles’s Skid Row) and a chance meeting with volunteer Jessica Sutherland changed the path of his life forever.

Sutherland, who had also experienced homelessness as a teenager, mentored and encouraged Ward to beat the odds, achieve academic excellence and apply to leading higher education institutions. With her guidance he won a coveted place at the prestigious historically black college Howard University.

His inspirational story captured the imagination of the public after Sutherland started a Tumblr blog using the hashtag #HomelesstoHoward. The social media crowdfunding campaign was launched to help the teen raise enough money to pay his first-year expenses.

The James Ward Fund exceeded expectations and with the help of a few celebrity endorsements has now raised over $70,000, enough to cover most of Ward’s expenses not covered by loans or grants for all four years.

Sutherland, who worked with Ward for about a year and a half before he gained admission to Howard, said she is determined to keep the momentum going to help other young homeless teens to gain access to higher education.

What’s next for Ward?

Speaking to theGrio, Ward said his first semester as a freshman at Howard University was “amazing” and he was now excited about his future prospects. “It has surpassed the expectations I had. I love this school, everything about it.”

Studying a physics major, Ward aspires to be an astrophysicist or a genetic engineer with a doctorate degree but said he maintains a strong interest in politics.