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East Bay scholar's tight-knit family keeps him close to home

East Bay scholar's tight-knit family keeps him close to home
East Bay scholar's tight-knit family keeps him close to home 02:46

RICHMOND -- It's not uncommon for Students Rising Above Scholars to have close knit, loving families. Ronvel Sharper is no exception. 

Sharper is living at home with his family as he attends college, and his mom wouldn't have it any other way. Sheila Savannah and her husband keep a close eye on all three of their children. But it's their son Ronvel that she often worries about the most.

"He's smart. He's caring. He wants to do good by everyone," said Sheila of her son. "Just being a black young man walking down the street, you can get killed, you know? So I always tell Ronvel if you're going to be out, make sure you call and let me know that you are okay."

Growing up in and around Richmond and San Pablo, Ronvel and his parents saw other families struggle with poverty and street violence. So they worked hard to provide a safe, loving home. Ronvel says some of his peers  weren't as lucky.

"It really opens your eyes when you see like people your own age living in cars, and their car is literally their only form of shelter," said Ronvel. "As a kid I basically just saw it every day. Thought it was pretty normal. And looking back on it now, it's just outright saddening."

But Ronvel has struggled too. When he started high school, studying took a back to seat to peer pressure and popularity.

"I was more interested in like being part of the cool kids. You know, the cool kids club," recalled Ronvel. "And of course, my mom and dad wouldn't let me get into that kind of stuff."

Sheila put her foot down.

"It made me feel a little bit frustrated," said Sheila of her son's attitude about school. "I didn't teach him that way. I'd always taught him to be himself; be cool being yourself."

Ronvel wanted to change.

"I started thinking about, 'What do I want to be in life? What does success mean?,'" recalled Ronvel. "And so after that I basically got my head out of the gutter, and just started taking school seriously."

He made friends with his teachers at Richmond High School and hit the books. By senior year, he was on the honor roll before graduating with four associates degrees from Contra Costa Community College.

Sheila celebrated her son's success. And Ronvel contemplated his next move. Now he's about to complete a degree in social work, a career he sees as a way to serve others.

"It's like the desire to know that I am actually helping someone," said Ronvel. "It's just the satisfaction of having someone come in and they are super broken and then, over time, they're constantly making themselves better. And just knowing that, 'Dang I did that. I helped that person realize their own worth.'"

Sheila knows her son's caring heart will be the center of his success. But she's still expecting those phone calls home, even after he moves away. Ronvel's girlfriend  lives on the East Coast, so he hopes to relocate there after graduation next spring.

"I'm very, very, very proud of my son," said Sheila. "He calls and he lets me know he's okay. So I feel much better just knowing that he's okay."

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