Columbia student inspires, promotes power of education
Dwayne Ismail, a student at Southern Wesleyan University’s Columbia education center, isn’t afraid to confront issues that lead youth down a dead-end road.
A loving grandmother, and his single mother, Joanna McCray, with assistance of others, helped Ismail navigate his own troubled youth, lived out on the streets of Miami. Now, he shows a younger generation of at-risk youth how to take the right road.
“I’d get into trouble in Miami and was shipped to Manning, S.C., to work for my grandfather,” he said. Ismail aspired to make his name as a rap music recording artist, but when he got married and became a father, he knew he would need a lifestyle change.
“It was difficult to be in Miami and stay focused,” Ismail said, adding that his grandmother recommended he move to Manning. Ismail moved to South Carolina to be near his relatives in Clarendon County and reconnect with his father, Johnnie Taylor. He currently resides in Columbia with his wife, Shelly, daughters Chardonnay and Briahnna and his son, William.
Another pivotal event came in 2008 when Ismail attended a community meeting where then-Attorney General Henry McMaster challenged him to get involved with youth. He responded by developing a program called Business Leaders Youth Alliance, an organization that connects business leaders with at-risk youth, offering them learning opportunities through real-life examples.
Ismail speaks to middle and high school students, urging them to finish school and aim for college. He frequently partners with business professionals, local government leaders and law enforcement.
“Dwayne is one of our up and coming community leaders and contributors,” said Sam Davis, a member of Columbia’s city council, adding that Ismail works with him on crime, safety and other youth issues in his district. “He’s willing to go beyond the 8 to 5.”
A few years ago, when Ismail visited Phoenix Charter School in Alcolu, he encouraged Maryann Llera, then a high school student, to stick with her dream. Ismail’s mentoring helped her attain academic success and to graduate from high school as class valedictorian in 2010.
“To this day he keeps me on track,” said Llera, who currently lives in Texas and continues her studies in forensic science while serving as a member of the National Guard’s military police.
Another success story is Aaron Nelson, a student from Kingstree, who periodically interns with Ismail at the Dessausure Law Firm in Columbia, where he assists in creating packages for clients and other office tasks. Former Turbeville Town Manager Pat Goodwin mentored an East Clarendon High School student, making him town manager for a week. During that period the student worked with engineers on a streetscape project, introduced an ordinance at a town council meeting and attended a Rotary meeting.
Also, BLYA celebrated its first Juris Doctorate when Tiffany Michelle Jones was accepted into the Alabama State Bar in October.
Ismail takes to heart that same message he shares with others valuing a good education. He attends classes at Southern Wesleyan’s Columbia Education Center at 1021 Pinnacle Point Drive, located near his home. Ismail’s goal is to earn a business degree. “I love it. I recommend it. I’m trying to recruit,” Ismail enthusiastically said. “The program gives us working adults a chance.”
Ever sharpening his skill, Ismail recently won first-place at a conference for District 58 of Toastmasters International, an organization that develops communication and leadership skills.
“Toastmasters fine tunes your communication skills and develops the leader inside of you,” Ismail said.
For details about BLYA, visit their website at www.blyaonline.com.
Southern Wesleyan University has regional education centers conveniently located across South Carolina. Southern Wesleyan University is a Christ-centered, student-focused learning community devoted to transforming lives by challenging students to be dedicated scholars and servant-leaders who impact the world for Christ.