Bobby Rodriguez has always been gifted with resilience, energy, and positivity. The Student DREAMers Alliance renewed his understanding of his own opportunities — a perspective that has carried him through a trauma no one could anticipate. Now, we hope to provide him with an opportunity he has always wished for: the chance for his story to inspire others to succeed.
On a bitterly cold January day in 2017, a group of around twenty Hispanic teens sits in the windowed garden room of Furman University Chapel with Justice John Few, of the South Carolina Supreme Court. He leads them in reading and discussing Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise.” The room is heavy with shed tears and bowed heads as the teens relate verses to their own, deeply personal immigrant experiences. He asks each youth, “What can you do to rise?”
Bobby Rodriguez has been listening intently in silence. When he speaks through tears, he shares the realization that takes shape with each thought:
I am so grateful. As everyone was talking about how they only have one parent, I realize, I have two. When we visited Mexico, my dad told us how the coyote would leave him here in the desert to walk, and the thorns from the cactus would stick in his body. How could I think about not going to school after all he sacrificed? Some people are fighting just to go. I am just thankful for all my opportunities.
Hearing the personal struggles and barriers of his friends meant that Bobby could no longer remain ambivalent about his own open doors. Four years later, he still points back to the perspective he gained during his year in the Student DREAMers Alliance (SDA) as a force driving him to persevere and succeed: “Being able to listen to everyone’s story really inspired me to continue my education. It helped me get to the point where I am now graduating with my Associates’ Degree.”
SDA was conceived to equip Hispanic students to face the systematic and systemic barriers to higher education that can put a degree out of reach. Even after just becoming a US citizen, Bobby knew what he was up against as an immigrant student. On his SDA application he shares:
“The biggest barriers to college for people in our community are money and self-doubt. It’s hard actually believing that I’ll be attending college, because I’ll be one of the few people in my family who has….My father only went to 2nd grade and my mother went to 7th grade.”
Even if these realities hadn’t changed, a year in SDA catapulted Bobby beyond self-doubt. He would never again accept personal excuses for not achieving his goals, no matter what the circumstance.
After graduating high school, Bobby continued to work long hours in construction, landscaping, and even taught himself to cut hair to pay for his education in Mechatronics at Greenville Technical College. When all this fell short, Hispanic Alliance engaged our Network to provide him with a much-needed laptop. Through problem-solving his own needs, Bobby came into his own as an avid networker. “It all comes down to being resourceful, being able to network and reach out to people,” he insists, “…If I have a financial issue, I could… use every excuse, or I could… learn how to equip myself with the skills and resources to continue forward.” From study groups to book sharing, and materials to keep his used car on the road, Bobby pieced together success through genuine relationships with the people around him, including Hispanic Alliance: “They gave me assistance when I didn’t know where to go,” he says, “They geared me in the path of success.”
This year, Bobby’s hard-won resilience was tested to the breaking point. It was April, just months away from finishing his degree, and a good friend from North Carolina dropped by. They went out for ice cream, and were driving back after dark.
“It was pitch black and there was one light at the roundabout where we were,” Bobby recalls. A car passed by them, turning into the street where they intended to follow. “Before we could even step on the gas, they let off several shots at us with a shotgun, an assault rifle, and a pistol. The driver told our passenger, “Get down!” and as he turned, a bullet skimmed his head. I was in the back seat, and a bullet penetrated through, right below my knee.”
Bobby was caught in the crossfire of a shooting.
“I was able to react and take off my shirt and apply pressure, and in a matter of seconds we rushed to the hospital,” he explains quietly. “A nurse rushed with a wheelchair to get me out of the car. I didn’t realize how bad the damage was to my bones. As soon as they tried to pick me up out of the car into the wheelchair, I was in agonizing pain.”
The next few hours were a haze as he underwent a transfusion and surgeries to stabilize his leg. “The whole time I was there, no one could visit me. I was in COVID lockdown.” He stayed 5 nights in the hospital unable to have a single visitor as the noise in the ER kept him awake, and his pain medication did little to help him rest. When Bobby was released, nurses came to his home three times a week. To prevent deadly blood clots he had to learn to inject himself with anticoagulants daily.
“I’m very thankful to be alive and breathing,” he shares.
Support from family and friends is key to his long and ongoing recovery. But Bobby is also equipped with an attitude of incredible maturity and tenacity.
“I saw life how it is,” he states. “I accepted in my head, ‘I just got shot, and it’s perfectly fine to be sad and depressed, but that’s just a state of mind. Don’t stay there for long.’ Whenever family members would come over, I would be smiling and tell them, ‘Hey, we’ve got to enjoy the struggle, because we won’t be struggling for long!’”
In his mind, if one of four limbs wasn’t working, it just meant the other three were still operational. He began lifting weights and working out everything but his leg. Now in December, he has recovered physically enough to resume work, a huge relief as his medical bills and income losses mount. Though the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to endure trauma alone in the hospital, he is thankful for an entirely different development — suddenly, all his college classes could be attended virtually. Despite nearly losing his life and enduring a grueling recovery, Bobby is still set to graduate from Greenville Tech this December, and is applying to work in Mechatronics at several major companies.
When imagining his ideal future, Bobby mentions his career but also talks about a dream he wants to implement for students at Greenville Tech, his soon-to-be Alma Mater. “I enjoy seeing other people succeed,” he explains. “Aside from working I would like to do…a mentoring program.” He feels deeply for fellow students that failed to thrive because they were disconnected from community, the ultimate key to his own success. “There are a lot of people who cave into themselves, when college should be a networking opportunity for all….I wanted to open that program for students who aren’t as outgoing or extroverted.”
Much of what drives Bobby to continue rising since that cold January in SDA hasn’t changed. He has honored the struggles of his SDA peers with his resilience, seeks to support those falling through the cracks, and views his own life trials with an eye towards how they can uplift his younger peers.
“I want to be able to put my message out there so they can see that it’s possible, and that it can be done!” he emphasizes. “I want to go forward in life and pursue my career — be successful so I can have an amazing story for other Hispanic students who have been in my shoes, or endured something worse than me.”
What Bobby provides in inspiration, many of us provide through our generosity. Like him, many of our Hispanic students are in dire need of the basic components of higher education: text books, computers, and transportation. Due to the cost of tuition, many more have had to abandon their dreams for their survival. Hispanic Alliance wants to commit to supporting our SDA alumni in higher education to the fullest, and we cannot make that promise in good faith without your help!