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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Montae Taylor's Life Changed After Friend's Arrest

By Ahndrea Jones

Montae Taylor had no intention of going to college.

But when a close friend was arrested and sentenced to prison for 34 years, Taylor promised to better himself and his community by furthering his education.

On Dec. 15, Taylor will graduate early from Old Dominion University with a double major of criminology and sociology with a concentration in social welfare.

Growing up, Taylor lived in an inner-city Richmond neighborhood consisting mostly of single-parent households, where other concerns took precedence over school and higher education.

He said his guidance counselor discouraged him from going to college, instead suggesting he look into custodial work or the military.

"Some of my best friends were homeless at times," he recalled. "Going to prison was like going to college. So you don't look forward to it."

Just before he graduated from high school Taylor's attention and goals shifted.

His friend was charged with conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery and two counts of using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during a felony.

Taylor felt his friend, who was just 19, didn't get a fair shake due to his family's criminal history. He saw how "easy it is to get sucked in if you don't know about the system, this trap they put us in, with no chance to change."

This prompted Taylor to not only to look deeper into his friend's case, but to promise him that he'd make a change in his community.

Taylor chose ODU because he wanted to get away from Richmond and to be challenged, not only academically, but by a different culture and surroundings.

Taylor majored in sociology because he felt it would help him reach his goal of becoming a social entrepreneur. He's interested in changing the legal system as well as his community. He plans to begin law school in the fall of 2019, but hasn't decided which one yet.

He has made a significant impact at ODU.

Taylor wanted to see a change for African Americans and other minorities on campus, asking "how diverse and inclusive is ODU really?" He met with Lesa Clark, executive director of Intercultural Relations, and Johnny Young, associate vice president of Student Engagement and Enrollment Services.

Taylor's goal was to make sure his "brothers and sisters were doing as well (academically)" and creating "a culture to encourage each other and excel."

Young subsequently started ODU's Brother 2 Brother chapter in 2016. This organization helps young minority men succeed academically and professionally. Taylor served as its vice president.

It is making a difference. At ODU's Social Mobility Symposium in June, President John R. Broderick noted that the average grade-point average of freshmen in Brother 2 Brother rose 0.20 points from the fall 2016 semester to spring 2017.

Taylor also is president of Virginia's Youth and College NAACP chapter and helped form a non-profit organization. He started Striving Altogether Valiantly Every day (S.A.V.E.) in June 2017 with two other men from ODU - Dariel Taylor, an undergraduate who will also graduate in December, and Maurice Williams, a former ODU employee who worked with the Upward Bound program. S.A.V.E. is geared toward students ages 8-18 and received its license in October. Furthermore, Taylor is a development manager for the Hope-U nonprofit organization in Chesapeake.

Taylor won Old Dominion's Evon-Broderick Award for Community Engagement and Service in 2017 and the Rising Community Leader Award from the Urban League of Hampton Roads in January.

"To simply state that Montae is an involved student would be an understatement," Young wrote in his letter recommending Taylor for the Evon-Broderick Award. "It is his extraordinary motivation that captures my attention, and which I find inspiring."

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