While many young men are eager to begin their freshmen year of college after high school graduation, Demetrius Irick was set to begin a four-year prison sentence.

Irick, an Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School graduate, had a chance to share the story of his “street life” that included drugs and sometimes violence with more than 125 children from the Thomas B. Eklund, Roosevelt Gardens, Zimmerman, Bowman and Edisto Boys and Girls clubs on March 28.

In his memoir, “I’m Finally a Man: A Husband’s Journey to Manhood,” the Orangeburg native details his life in the fast lane that led to a dead end.

“I wanted street credibility; I got wayward,” Irick said. “Because of my associations, I quickly garnered a criminal mind-set.”

Shevelle Bell, unit director for Thomas B. Eklund Boys and Girls Club, said a chance encounter led her to invite Irick to speak at the club’s monthly platform speakers program.

Irick didn’t grow up in the stereotypical environment of a troubled teen. He was reared in a home by both parents. However, he said he had a problem with authority.

Irick told the young people, “My mother always told me that association brings assimilation, and I didn’t know how true that was until I found myself surrounded by murderers and thieves, and that really made me do a self-evaluation.”

He said his “strong desire to be accepted among his peers attributed to him making poor decisions” and ultimately resulted in his incarceration.

Irick said it took years in prison, the death of some his former associates and prayer from his family before he was able to reflect on his previous decisions and the resulting consequences.

Now the father of two daughters, he said he would encourage parents to do what he felt his parents did not do.

“With my parents, they didn’t open the door for open communication. It was either ‘my way or the highway,’” he said.

“Children will confide in their peers who are not going to be judgmental,” Irick said. “Parents need to begin to think differently and be open enough to listen to their children.”

“I believe in his story,” said Laura Washington, executive director of the Orangeburg Area Boys and Girls Club “He is able to connect with kids. We’re excited for them to see an author who came from their community.”

After his release from prison in 1999, Irick said he was eager to be a living example for others to follow.

In an interactive presentation titled “Decisions and Consequences,” he and the club members discussed mounting peer pressure, the importance of education, of being surrounded by positive influences and of having respect for their caregivers and authority.

Several club members took center stage with Irick to share their aspirations of becoming a social worker, a fashion designer, a veterinarian, a pediatrician, a journalist, a lawyer, an engineer, an artist and a musician.

Adrianna Cheeseboro, 10, a gifted and talented student at Marshall Elementary and one of the platform speakers, said she would like to be a journalist. She said she is successful in school and her community because of her participation in the Boys and Girls Club.

“It’s best to ignore negative peer pressure … I’ve learned that the decision you make today will affect your tomorrow,” Cheeseboro said.

Other Orangeburg Area Boys and Girls Club platform speakers were Hannah Jamison, Jaeviona Carson, Nariyah Morgan, Dennis Rowe, Jha-na Robinson, Iayana Sanders and Desire Gilyard.

Rowe, 18, of Roosevelt Gardens Boys and Girls Club said he wants to major in social work and minor in music upon graduation from O-W. He said his family is a huge support, along with God, in keeping him on the right path.

“Mr. Irick taught me today that no matter how bad your life is, you can always change it,” Rowe said.

LaNequa Ferguson, Miss Midlands, former Elloree Boys & Girls Club member and current counselor, also offered advice to the young people.

“You are bigger than your surroundings,” she said. “You don’t have to do what seems popular; do what is right.”

George Watson, a Thomas B. Eklund Boys and Girls Club Board member, has known Irick since he was a child and remembers the challenges he endured.

“He had a rough time in his past but he was able to speak to the children from a place of experience and genuine care and concern,” Watson said.

“Sometimes youth don’t realize their potential and that it often takes someone who has come from backgrounds similar to theirs to come share their story of how they’ve gone on to be successful individuals,” noted Willie Booker, Eklund director of operations and board member.

“Children are exposed to negative things, whether it is in the community or home setting. Anytime we can surround them with positive things, children will react positively,” he added.

Booker said the Boys and Girls Club motto is “saving one kid at a time.”

He noted that the clubs are in need of male and female mentors and volunteers.

Booker encouraged the public to support the Orangeburg Area Boys and Girls Club Golf Tournament fundraiser set for 9 a.m. on May 17 at Hillcrest. Proceeds from the tournament will go toward the purchase of a bus for the Boys and Girls Club.

Contact the writer: kimberleinicole@aol.com.

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