The Inspiration: DaQuann Harrison, DWH Inspires 

The People Issue

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Photo by Jacob Lewkow

If you met DaQuann Harrison as a boy, you wouldn't have thought he's the type of guy who would someday be written about in a People Issue.

By 8 years old, he began stealing, and faced a charge for arson and expulsion from school after starting a fire in a school bathroom. At home he endured physical and sexual abuse at the hands of a babysitter's nephew, and earned his first trip to a juvenile detention center at age 12.

Harrison suffered through periods of homelessness, attempted suicide, and spent stretches in psychiatric wards.

Still, in high school, he excelled in football at Ypsilanti Lincoln and looked forward to the day in September 2013 that he could play in front of his father, who was to be released from prison. But his dad never made it to a game because he killed his girlfriend within 72 hours of release, and is now in prison for life.

Not long after, kids at school started bullying and harassing Harrison, and the situation culminated with an incident in which he brought a knife and airsoft gun to school. That ended with his expulsion, arrest, and several felony charges.

Indeed, if one looks at the challenges and choices Harrison made growing up, it wouldn't be a stretch to predict that his future included prison.

But it didn't. Harrison turned his life around and now spends his time helping troubled youth across the country with his own organization, DWH Inspires. When we spoke with him on a recent evening, he was on the road in California at the Roots and Remedies Conference giving a speech called "Living black in dark world." He's also a part of Youth Empowers, a new youth-led, peer-to-peer group in Washtenaw County that pairs people like Harrison with those who are facing the same challenges he once dealt with, and addresses issues of race and inequality.

Beyond that, he's pursuing a degree in political science at Washtenaw Community College, expects to transfer to Eastern Michigan University, and will soon start an internship with U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell.

"I'm really surprised at where I am today," Harrison says. "If you look over my story you would think the end result would be with me in prison or dead, but my story eventually turned around 360 degrees to something that I didn't expect or believe it would."

He also helps out kids and has a voice in policy making as the federal liaison for the Student Advocacy Center of Michigan's Dignity in Schools campaign, the Washtenaw School Justice Partnership, My Brother's Keeper of Michigan-Washtenaw County, and Michigan Juvenile Justice Youth Advisory Board.

"I've been there and done that, so I know the feeling. Social workers are good, but they haven't been there, haven't been in that community, faced molestation ... and the different circumstances that have happened," he says. "To overcome the odds is amazing, so why not work with people who are in the shoes that you've been in, because you have a better chance of helping them."

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