Despite his uncertain living circumstances over the years, Martin Folsom stayed focused on scoring good grades in school.
Martin Folsom had the odds stacked up against him since childhood. According to Jacksonville television station WJXT, he and his mother Melva have been in and out of homelessness since he was a young boy and they had to move around a lot throughout his schooling. Over the course of two years, they lived in a number of homeless shelters across five states while Melva desperately tried to provide her son a stable home. However, despite the challenging conditions in which he grew up, Folsom was determined to do well in school and managed to stay focused on his studies. His hard work and dedication paid off when he was named his class' valedictorian and graduated from Philip Randolph Career Academy in Jacksonville.
Speaking to KTRK about his achievement, Folsom said, "It kind of gave me a jolt in my chest a little bit, so it was a good feeling. It means a lot and it gives me a sense of all I've done and all I have accomplished was worth it." He and his mother became homeless when they had to flee Melva's ex-husband, who has since been sentenced to 40 years in prison for murder. Over the course of the next two years, the mother and son bounced around from one homeless shelter to another before setting down roots in Jacksonville.
Although they had a roof over their heads for a few years, Folsom and Melva became homeless again while he was in high school—once in 9th grade and then again in 11th grade. "Martin and I were in downtown McDonald's and literally had nowhere to go," Melva recounted. "I was on the phone calling people, calling organizations, and by the grace of God, we got into a shelter that day." However, Folsom never let their uncertain living circumstances affect his grades in school.
"I never thought to myself, 'I can't do this anymore' or 'I'm done with this,'" the teen explained. "It's always been, 'Well, it happened again and I've gotta keep myself up and keep moving forward.' At my school, there are a lot of other smart people there too. And if I let myself slip, they would take it from me in a second." His proud mother revealed that she's always tried to instill dedication and perseverance in her son while he was growing up. "I just constantly kept pushing him to be better, and not necessarily to be No. 1, but to be better," said Melva.
Folsom thanked everyone who has helped him along the way in a Class of 2020 highlights video posted by Duval Schools. "It’s been a rocky road, a lot of hardships. But seeing myself now about to graduate, about to go to college, it feels good knowing all the stuff I’ve done was worth it. The first day me and my mom were in a shelter, back in 2012, so many people reached out to help us. People have sacrificed their time, their effort, and their money—which are very valuable things—and have done a lot to help me and my mom and to help me get further. All the stuff they have done for me was worth the effort," he said.
The teen, who served as class president right from his freshman through senior year, plans to attend Valdosta State University and has hopes of working for the FBI after graduation. Sharing a few words of advice for students who may be going through challenges of their own, Folsom said, "Tell them to dream big. Think about something that you really want and think about how good you're gonna feel once you accomplish that."