Escaping Cane Fields for College

willie gary college“The last thing I wanted to do was to go back to the streets of Indiantown, back to the sugar cane fields.”

Instead, without a scholarship offer, Willie Gary went to Shaw in Raleigh, N.C., a few days before the start of school. For a week, he swept the floors of the locker room until a player was injured and the coach let him play defense in a scrimmage.

“Seven or eight times, back to back, I got to the quarterback. I’m going through guys who weigh 280 pounds. This was my last shot! Nobody was going to stop me! I won a spot in life, because I didn’t quit.”

This too is an anecdote that Willie Gary frequently tells journalists. And like all the others, it drives home the point that he always wants to make: He’s David who can beat Goliath. As the signs blare in his law office: Dream Big Dreams. Refuse to be Denied.

That’s a theme he uses in speaking to poor kids, because he also believes in giving back. His foundation has a national television campaign, “Education Is Power,” urging children “to stay in school and be the best they can be.” He’s donated $10 million to his alma mater, Shaw University in North Carolina, picking that number because a school official once gave him $10 he needed to submit with his application.

“Ten for 10,” explained Willie Gary, always searching for the simple slogan to drive home his point.