- Associated Press - Saturday, March 18, 2017

MONROE, La. (AP) - Ebony Haley believes failure only comes when you don’t try.

For Ebony, it was a lesson learned from a teacher she first met when working toward her HiSET diploma, which she earned 10 years after husband, Michael Haley, met his GED requirements in only three weeks at the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Ouachita, a United Way affiliate.

The organization marked its 42nd anniversary this month, and Executive Director William Smith said no one could better exemplify OIC than the Haleys.

When Michael first ventured into OIC in November 2007, he wanted a better life and to have the necessary certifications to find a better job than the one he had. It was 10 years after he had dropped out of high school as a sophomore to spend time in the streets.

“I was always smart in school,” Michael said, “but the influence of the environment I was in… it was more of a pull than education. It was more of an influence. It seemed like the guys who were out in the street had more and more for themselves than me being in school. … I also didn’t really have a father figure, so I that is where I leaned. .. I ran to the streets trying to see how to become a man.”

Trouble followed, and Michael ended up on unsupervised probation, but it was there he first encountered hard truths that he said really clicked after he gave his life to Christ.

“Before I got on the right track, there was a guy who was my probation officer,” he said, “and he told me some things that inspired me and were an encouragement to me. Some of the things he said to me have stuck with me until this day.”

The officer asked Michael to take a look at him, his car, his salary and the way he dressed and to see achieving those things could be obtained without spending life in the streets.

“What really did it for me is when I accepted Christ as my Lord and savior,” he said. “He opened my eyes to a better view of this world I’m living in. He showed me that I can accomplish so much more than the state of mind I was in when I came to the knowledge of him. That is really what led me down the right path. From that day forward, it is like he has been blessing me.”

William Smith, executive director of OIC, said he likes to say Michael journeyed from the corner to the classroom, and the Haleys are the exemplary couple for OIC as it marks its 42nd anniversary month. Smith said OIC uses a “3E” formula to develop students - embrace, encourage and educate.

Mr. Haley left Monroe years ago to run from the trouble in his life…” Smith said. “He returned to Monroe with his wife, Ebony, and daughter but also unemployed and uneducated. He began his transition from the corner to the classroom by enrolling in the GED program at OIC. He fully passed the GED exam and made one of the highest scores in math in only three weeks. This year, Ebony enrolled and passed the exam.”

She completed her HiSET requirements at the beginning of the group’s March anniversary month. She started in October 2016 after having put off furthering her education until her son, the couple’s youngest child, was in school full time.

“I’m constantly stressing to my children how important their education is,” Ebony said. “It would be kind of like a hypocrite to tell your child, ‘You’ve got to go to school, and you’ve got to do this,’ and here it is, I didn’t finish.”

After Michael’s swift completion of the program and his achieving a high score in math, she felt discouraged when she didn’t progress as quickly.

“One thing Ms. (Samuel Etta) Walker told me I will never forget,” Ebony said. “The first time I went after my husband, I quit. I wasn’t even there a month, and I quit. And she said, ‘Nothing beats a failure like a trier. You never know where you will be and what the outcome is if you don’t try.’ So, to me, that’s the only time it is too late. A lot of people are like, ‘I’m 40. I’m too old for that.’ You’re never too old, and it’s never too late unless you decide that is what you want to believe and you give up.”

Michael was an early student of Walker’s, and she saw Ebony through to graduation this year, proud to be associated with a young couple she describes as Christian and parents of four wonderful children - 14 year-old-daughter Miekya, 5-year-old son Armani and 11-year-old twins, Jariah and Jamiah - who are all honor students.

Walker worked in public education for 34 years before starting as an instructor at OIC. Through the years, she has seen the average age of her students change from the young students to a group of older young adults, a demographic she said is typically more focused.

“When they actually graduate, it is so rewarding because I know how hard they worked,” Walker said. “They persevered through a lot of difficulties to get to where they are. When Michael came in, he knew what he wanted, and he went for it. Ebony was quite focused. They were both very pleasant to work with.”

In a profession where the success of her students in class has a direct impact on their success in life, Walker said the Haleys are proof of how hard work can pay off.

State Rep. Katrina Jackson, a supporter of OIC, met with the Haleys on March 9 and said she hopes others will join with her in supporting OIC.

“I’m excited OIC has continued to do good work and offer opportunities throughout this community for over 50 years,” Jackson said. “I would ask that our local businesses and individuals consider supporting their efforts. They offer GED classes and technical classes that are invaluable to the community and to those who enroll. I also want to congratulate this couple.”

Both Michael and Ebony plan to continue their education in the future and hope to pursue careers in criminal justice. Michael, who currently works as a delivery driver, said he would like to work as a parole and probation officer so he could pay forward the help his probation officer provided to him while Ebony, a stay-at-home mom, plans to pursue forensics.

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Information from: The News-Star, https://www.thenewsstar.com

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