Momlogic recently posted: "We were just amazed and inspired when we watched Atlanta senior Deonte Bridges' valedictorian speech on YouTube.
Here's the interview, which is re-posted with permission from Momlogic.
Paris Hardaway: I was excited and overwhelmed! I started calling everyone and telling everybody. Stuff like that, I can't keep to myself. I was on the train when Deonte called me and told me. He said he was the first black male to receive the award in over a decade. I just lost it and had to calm down because I was on public transportation. I didn't tell anyone on the train because I didn't want them to think I was crazy, but I called my cousin and knew it would get out from there because she'd notify everybody! I cry when I look from where we came to where we are now. Things could have gone in a totally different way. For me to be here and see what Deonte has accomplished is a gift.
ml: How did you feel hearing Deonte's beautiful graduation-day speech?
PH: That day when Deonte made that speech, I was sitting there listening. I was already in tears from hearing the salutatorian's speech and life story. When Deonte started telling his story, I saw him becoming emotional -- I sat there in awe because even being his mom, I didn't realize he was dealing with these things at the level he expressed it. I look at him as my hero. He gave me the courage and support I needed after being diagnosed with
ml . He was in middle school, around age 13, when I was diagnosed, and I knew I had to be here for him, so I fought for my life. It was me and him, and with him being my youngest, I knew I had to be a mother to him. I wanted to see him progress over the years. It was through God's grace and mercy I was there that day to see him. He spoke life into me and Deonte. : What was Deonte's childhood like? Did he face any challenges?
PH: Deonte is the youngest of my four children ... he's my baby. My oldest is 37, my son Maurice would have been 34, my daughter is 30 and Deonte is now 18. My son, Maurice, was 20 years old when he passed away. He went to play basketball with friends and went into cardiac arrest and passed away.
Growing up, Deonte faced pressures from the outside world but never gave in to them. From birth to age 4, we lived in a neighborhood that was surrounded with drugs, guns and violence. Where we lived, it wasn't that bad, but it was definitely within the area. When Deonte was 4, we moved to "West End" in Atlanta. It was the same type of atmosphere, but we were in a better section. Those types of things were around, but I kept my kids away from it. They were familiar with what was going on -- they saw and knew it was there, but they stayed away.
No matter how much you try to protect your kids, things are still out there. One day, Deonte attended an event at the school. After, his friend's mom drove him home. Instead of bringing him to the house, she dropped him off at the bus stop. As he walked home, he was robbed at gunpoint and they took his wallet, cell phone and ID. I was always worried for Deonte because he went to school in the morning when it was dark and he came home at night when it was dark again. I always wanted him to get there safely and return home safely. There is so much going on in the world and in the streets with killings, robberies and more.
ml : What kind of student was Deonte? And at what age did you realize there was something truly special about him?
PH: He was an excellent student from pre-K until his graduation. From the time I put him in pre-K, he excelled. Nine out of ten times, he was the only male student getting awards or honors in school. He was always the top male student in his class. When he was a little boy, I noticed a difference in him than other kids. We watched "Sesame Street," "Barney" and "Mister Rogers'" together. All his teachers were always telling me how smart he was, and in third grade, his teacher suggested I get him tested because she felt he was gifted. I never had to help him with homework ... he was always smart.
ml : How is your health now?
PH: I was diagnosed with leukemia five years ago when Deonte was 13. I am doing pretty good now. I am in remission, but will always have to take my medication forever to prevent it from returning. I can't be in cold because my bones ache and hurt, but I am getting by and thank God for allowing me to be here with Deonte and my family.
ml : What are Deonte's future plans?
PH: Deonte is planning to attend the University of Georgia. As of now, he wants to study business and accounting, but he's got the world at his feet. He's very talented, and he's a wonderful songwriter, so we'll see ....
ml: What advice would you give to other moms?
PH: I would tell them to continue to support and love their kids. Let them know that if nobody else has their back, you do. Encourage them in any way, form or fashion. Say good things to them no matter what the outside world says. Every day is a fight, so stay in the fight and focus on goals and dreams. You're there with them and you want them to see they can accomplish all they desire to do.