Oakland Education Leader is a Survivor

Charles Cole III (left), Charles Cole Jr. and Renaté Cole

Charles Cole III (left), Charles Cole Jr. and Renaté Cole

Long addicted to crack cocaine, Charles Cole III’s parents finally went into recovery about 20 years ago. Twelve years old at the time, Cole had already lived in Chicago, Kentucky, Oakland and San Francisco, including four shelters, and attended 11 elementary schools. 


Early on, he figured that “school was the way out of the ’hood. To live the life I wanted to have, I had to go to school.” So he went, acquiring a bachelor’s degree from Cal State East Bay and a master’s from S.F. State.


Little did Cole know that he was inspiring his parents, who graduated from the Sacramento Theological Seminary with bachelor of arts degrees in Biblical Studies earlier this month.


When he tweeted a photo of them in their caps and gowns, he had no idea that it would go viral and prompt stories from national news outlets.


At this writing time there have been 1.4 million views of the Coles’ story on ‘Now This.” “Our son is a go-getter,” Charles Cole Jr. told ABC News. “By seeing his energy [and] his drive to just do it that kind of pushes us… Well, if he can do it, we can do it too. We embedded this in him.”


Cole summed up his parents’ achievement simply. “They did drugs together, they went to jail together, they moved to California together, they got clean together, it’s only fitting that they go back to school and graduate together.”


Charles Cole Jr. and Renaté Cole hope to do more as a team, planning to use their degrees to further their work with homeless veterans. For now, they are active members of the Light Christian Church in Sacramento. A church of their own is on the horizon once they complete their doctorates.


“We have a lot of schooling to complete,” Renaté Cole told the Huffington Post. “We have a lot to do.


“It was our purpose in life to be educated in this way,” Renaté said. “To just see the fruit [of your labor] that if you continue to work hard, if you continue to believe, if you continue to hold on, God will help you do whatever it is you’re called to do.”


Charles Cole III, who is currently pursuing a doctorate in Educational Leadership at S.F. State, told the Independent Journal Review that his parents are proof that you can do anything you put your mind to.


“As long as you have air in your lungs, you can achieve your goals,” Charles III said. “Your past doesn’t have to dictate your future.”


Adapted from reports from Huffington Post, ABC News and the Independent Journal Review.


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