At 18 years old, LeBron Hill found himself living in a shelter with men twice his age after his mother kicked him out of their house.
His senior year of high school was cut short; his mom’s decision left him with no choice but to drop out. Five years later, he’s months away from graduating from Lipscomb University – an aspiring journalist who has overcome homelessness.
“I remember just waking up every day with this drive to do better and know the worth I have in myself,” Hill says, recalling his time in a shelter in Tullahoma, Tenn. “I focused on my godly expectations and forgot what human expectations were."
Moving forward from what he describes as a “chaotic” childhood, Hill saw the time in a shelter to finally focus on himself and what he wanted to make of his life.
“At that point in time, it was a God send that I could be who I am and do what I wanted to do. I started to realize that my faith was go to play a big role in who I was going to be next,” he says.
Hill got a job at Walmart, and without a driver's license, began riding his bike from the shelter to work and G.E.D. classes.
“I don’t think that anyone has ever been excited to be a cart pusher at Walmart, but for me, it was mine. It was something that I could say, ‘I did this,’ and I was able to work hard for,” Hill says. “But I always knew there was another level for me.
“I got my G.E.D. It’s a very rigorous thing. It was very, very hard.” Hill had plans to move to Nashville, but his pastor, Randy Davis, advised him to stay in the area and confront the pain he had been through.
“I told him, ‘I just want to get away; I’ve always strived to do the best and here nothing ever adds up.’ He said, ‘It’s not going to help to run away from your problems because no matter what, you’re still going to have to face them. It’s better to do that in the best way and not run away from it.’”
Hill heeded the advice, enrolling in Motlow State Community College in Smyrna to pursue an associate’s degree in mass communications.
“When I got the letter that I was going to Motlow, it didn’t hit me at that point that I was going to college because I never, ever thought this was a possibility for me,” Hill says. “At that point I was nervous, because I never studied a day of my life in high school.”
Hill chuckles as he recalls his first day of college. “My heart was beating most of the day … I was like, ‘this is my moment, this is my chance.’
It was music appreciation class – not a big class, a tiny class – and I’m thinking this is going to tell me about my future life. I’m writing down everything (the professor) is telling us – his name, his favorite dog, everything I could write down.”
He becomes serious, as he adds, “After that day I just knew it was going to be something I was going to be committed to. During Motlow, I was able to do a lot and during that first semester, I still lived in the shelter.”
During the second semester, he moved into an apartment and got his driver’s license – all with the help of his pastor who he now calls dad. A year later, he had earned his associate’s degree.
“When I graduated from Motlow, I was sitting there crying like a baby thinking of what I accomplished. When I went up (on stage) and came down, my dad was there and took pictures of me. It was like poetic justice because he was there when I first started and when I graduated,” Hill says. “He’s the greatest guy I know.”
Hill came to Lipscomb last year to complete a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and he’s set to graduate in May. He plans to pursue journalism with hopes of becoming a TV news anchor. He’s currently the vice president of a social fraternity and writes for Lumination Network, the university's online student news site.
His time experiencing homelessness not only drove him to reach for the life he craved, but also reshaped his understanding of what it’s like to be without a home.
“It was kind of nice to understand their side,” Hill says, referring to those whom he stayed with in the shelter. “When you’re forced to get to know someone, besides what society tells us, it truly gets you to know one another beyond the stereotypes you have.
“Some people, when they think of homeless people, they think they don’t want to do anything with themselves. But sometimes when you get to know a person, they fall short and people don’t let them understand they can get back up. A lot of times people in society say, ‘If you mess up, that’s it,’ and I experienced that. People felt me being a high school dropout was a mistake, and not a lot of people were trying to help me out. If I didn’t pick myself back up, I wouldn’t be here.”