by Tim Huang, ’14
A few years ago my mentors, a couple from my hometown who lead and serve their community with so much grace, love, and integrity, gifted me a desk plaque that wrote: “never, never, never give up.” They blessed me not just with this small act of kindness, but with their daily embodiment of that phrase through all the years I spent with them. The man, the former mayor of my city, fought through testicular cancer and survived. Today, he’s a huge advocate for early detection, treatment, and cancer education. The woman, who has stuck by him through all the tough times and saw firsthand one of the hardest struggles humans can face, has been a huge force for inspiring youth to live their lives to the fullest by helping others. Their dream was to empower youth to lead, serve, and be a force for kindness in my community. And though both of them have faced a lot of obstacles in establishing a youth group in my town that did just that (due the lack of support and trust from other adults and institutional leaders), they would not give up on their dream, and personally spent hundreds of hours providing the backbone for this organization. Today, it has been one of the most successful youth initiatives in the county, raising tens of thousands of dollars every year for causes around the world (cancer research and prevention, Haiti earthquake relief, the Indonesia Tsunami relief, orphanages in Thailand, etc.) while serving the local community from a place of love and joy. And all of this was made possible because they refused to give up on their dreams and on the power of youth to change the world.
I am constantly inspired by who they are and what they stand for, and so I have chosen to adopt this motto as well – never give up. I realized that our dreams and our visions for a better world are too important to let the critics tell us that we’re wrong. I also realized that life is too short for us to give up on our dreams for creating a more perfect world together. After all, our dreams make up the fabric of the beautiful quilt that is our human community, the very essence of our interconnectedness.
At the same time, achieving our vision for social justice takes hard work, failure, and growth from that failure. It means not shying away in the face of adversity or criticism or dissent. It means not running away at the first sign of failure. It means not abandoning our dreams when we feel most insecure or unprepared. Rather…it means standing up for what you believe in. It means trusting in social change even when the status quo seems to be winning. It means building a movement of activists and supporters even if it takes years. It means being authentic and vulnerable even when it’s hard. It means accepting that you are more powerful than you ever imagined.
All these things I mentioned are exemplified in the incredible story of Dewey Bozella, a man who was locked away in prison for a crime he didn’t commit but never gave up on his dream of freedom. From the time he was young, Dewey had always dreamed of being a professional boxer. But after being convicted for the murder of a 92-year old woman at age 18, his dreams were cut short. He served 26 years before finally being released a free man in 2009. While he was in prison, he was offered parole four times, but was denied every time because he refused to admit that he had murdered this woman. His integrity mattered to him and the fact that he wasn’t willing to give up on that demonstrated that true freedom to him meant being allowed to return home as a man of his word, a man who did not cop out when times got hard. So in those 26 years, boxing was his escape, his solace, his way to freedom in a place of solitude and enclosure. Physically, he trained hard, as though he was training for a real professional boxing match. Mentally, he bettered himself as well, attaining a Bachelors and a Masters while in prison. The self-discipline he developed pushed him to never stop pursuing his dreams.
In the last 10 years of his sentence, he came upon the Innocence Project, a criminal justice nonprofit with a mission to exonerate wrongly convicted inmates through DNA testing and litigation. He wrote to them for 5 years, with no response from them. Dewey refused to give up and kept writing the same letter, again and again. Finally, after 5 years, they returned his letters and agreed to help him. When the Innocence Project began searching for evidence, they realized that there was nothing that would be useful to the case because the police department had burned his case file. In despair and without direction, the attorneys kept looking. In a stroke of luck, perhaps a miracle, they somehow found a duplicate case file from 26 years before, as a retired police officer decided to keep Dewey’s file out of a feeling that someone would someday come looking for it. With the evidence in hand, Dewey and the Innocence Project had his conviction overturned, and Dewey walked out of prison a free man. His dream of freedom was finally attained.
Since then, Dewey has fulfilled his dream of becoming a professional boxer. He only wanted one shot in the ring, and he got it. Just last week, Dewey Bozella, at 52 years of age, had his professional debut as a boxer, winning his first and last match with a man 22 years younger than he is. With that match under his belt, Dewey has decided to start his own organization to work with youth, teaching them boxing skills as a way to achieving their dreams by working on self-discipline and never giving up. His courage, as well as, his willingness to serve is a model for us. His message is clear: never, never, never give up. Your dreams are waiting for you. Go get ‘em.
If you want to learn more about his inspiring story, check out: The Calm Within.
Tim, a sophomore majoring in Human Biology, is passionate about education reform, social and food justice, and sustainable change. He’s a big fan of the Stanford Gleaning Project and Stanford Splash!, and believes the world is amazing place!