When 18-year-old Marveon Mabon found out that strangers were donating to a GoFundMe so he could go to Morehouse College, he was speechless. But it didn’t take long for him to find many words of gratitude.
“Am I dreaming? Is this real?” Mabon said to Inside Edition Digital. “For complete strangers to support a kid from Watts to go to his dream school, is truly mind-blowing.”
Mabon grew up in the Imperial Courts Housing Projects in Watts, an area in Southern Los Angeles, with his single mother and nine siblings, who now range in age from 25 to 6, is not only the first in his family to go to college but also the first to graduate high school.
On May 1, there were cheers and hugs outside his home at Imperial Courts when Mabon, surrounded by his friends and family, got his acceptance letter and committed to Morehouse, class of 2025.
“Watching my brothers and sisters try to get to that point where I’m at, then like lose hope and for me to continue to have hope and want to graduate and not just make my life better, but my family’s and my community’s life better, and to inspire them that [to show] it is OK to go to college, and the path is very much doable, is an amazing feeling,” Mabon said.
Mabon has long been dedicated to his community. And he juggled all that came with a high school senior during the coronavirus pandemic while ensuring his neighbors were taken care of.
He worked alongside others to distribute PPE and bring food to seniors. He mentored elementary and middle schoolers at the Watts COVID-19 outdoor learning pod to make sure they stayed on track and worked toward advancing the next level.
He continued his role as a youth liaison with the Los Angeles Police Department and the City Housing Authority. During the George Floyd protests, Mabon led talks in the town hall about police brutality and spoke about steps his community could take to cope. He also partnered with one of his mentors to build an anti-bullying program for his community at Imperial Courts so his peers could understand the long-term effects of bullying.
In between all that, he spent time working on a community garden at Imperial Courts to grow vegetables and fruit, and make a communal space for people to gather, hoping it will bring people together. “You get to know people who are not like you or may not come from the same background as you,” he said of what creating a gathering space can do.
“If you really want to see an urban community like mine progress and move forward, you really need to give them a hand up,” Mabon said. “If you give them a ‘hand out,’ there is no reason for them to get up.”
“Every single person I have interacted with has been providing me with a ‘hand up’ now I am going to give a ‘hand up’ to the rest of my community so they can succeed in life,” he said.
Having cared for his community for his whole life, when it came time for Mabon to need some help, those who know and love him sprang into action.
Marveon Mabon’s Pay-it-Forward Attitude Proves to Be His Ticket to College
Morehouse College is a private historically Black liberal arts college located in Atlanta, Georgia that describes itself as “the only institution in the nation dedicated to empowering and developing Black men.”
“When you enter our community of Morehouse Men, you become a part of something bigger than yourself: You join a motivated brotherhood committed to lifting each other up to the highest levels of leadership, service, integrity, and professionalism,” the site says.
The 150-year-old institution counts Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and award-winning filmmaker Spike Lee among its alumni. And it has been a dream of Mabon’s for as long as he can remember to attend himself. But it almost didn’t happen.
Mabon was denied financial aid grants and scholarships because his school didn’t send the proper paperwork in on time, he said. As a result, all of the need-based support had already been awarded to other candidates.
The annual cost for one year at Morehouse is $49,700. If Mabon did not get the financial aid needed for tuition, room, and board, he would be unable to go to Morehouse.
Then he met Stacy Twilley.
Twilley had met Mabon during the COVID-19 pandemic after she came to Watts to help with food and water insecurity. She had previously donated food to help, but when the program she typically worked with was unable to operate during the pandemic, Twilley took it upon herself to help in person.
“I have a ranch in Santa Barbara and I would always donate oranges but since the program wasn’t coming down during the pandemic I brought a van load of oranges to Watts,” Twilley said.
She and other volunteers would go to the community once a week. On “Watts Wednesdays,” she was reliably there to distribute food to the community who needed it.
Twilley said she lived in LA for the last 20 years but had never been to Watts.
“It was a just a lovely way to find community in a time when we were all kind of scared with the pandemic and quarantine,” she said.
While there, she noticed a garden. “It wasn’t living up to its full potential. It didn’t have a proper water supply,” Twilley said. “Someone had to be taking care of these little lettuce plants otherwise they wouldn’t be growing.”
Eager to find out who in the community was caring for the garden, she started to ask around. Everyone she asked pointed her in Mabon’s direction.
“I was expecting to see my counterpart, a 50-year-old woman who is living here and we were going to plant vegetables together,” she laughed. “That is when I met Marveon.”
“I told him I wanted to help out and maybe grow some vegetables,” she said. But Mabon had this whole vision. “He said, ’I want it to look like a garden in Beverly Hills.’ It blew my mind,” she said. “Then I said, ‘OK, challenge accepted.’”
Twilley then got to work. She talked to a few gardening friends who had connections at nurseries, and then she reached out to a friend who designs gardens in Beverly Hills. Placing trees on the property was a must for Mabon, Twilley and their team of volunteers.
“Back in the day after the Watts riots the city cut down a lot of trees that were here,” she said. “To put back some trees and beauty into this neighborhood is really going to mean the world to people here.”
All the while, Twilley got to learn more about Mabon and the ordeal he was facing with college.
“I was having some struggles,” Mabon explained. She asked. “What do we do? What needs to be done? How do we make this right?”
Sending Marveon Mabon to Morehouse College
A friend of Twilley’s suggested that she start a GoFundMe page to help Mabon. Twilley admitted she wasn’t familiar at first with the fundraising initiative but she followed her friend’s lead. Her husband recommended setting up a trust, she said, that was then set up along with the GoFundMe.
“We wanted to assure people that the money was going only to where it said it would be going to: Marveon’s college education,” she said. “It was also to ensure donor and friends of mine who wanted to contribute very generously that they weren’t just handing over a lump sum check to an 18-year-old they didn’t know.”
She was optimistic but not sure what the response would be.
“I thought maybe we will get $25,000 by August and then we will figure out the rest,” Twilley said. “Marveon was going to go to Morehouse. We were going to make it happen. It is going to happen. We will just figure it out.”
“It was the kind of story that touched people,” she added. “Angelinos are really generous people. We want him to succeed and represent [in] Atlanta. He is our best and our finest.”
The goal of the fundraiser was $100,000 and called, “Let’s Make Marveon a Morehouse Man!” Twilley added some details about Mabon to the site, describing him as a “community organizer, social justice advocate and future Morehouse man,” she wrote, noting he was “bright, hardworking, engaging, kind, funny and a born leader.”
“We know this a big goal and there are a lot of people struggling to make ends meet, but we have also seen the power of community to come together to make the impossible possible,” she wrote on the page.
“Attending Morehouse will change the trajectory of Marveon’s life, and of his family. A remarkable kid from a remarkably challenging, underserved community,” the page read. “We can’t imagine a better, more qualified, deserving candidate for a full scholarship to Morehouse than Marveon. He has given so much to enrich and uplift his community please help us uplift and enrich Marveon now in return.”
Donations started pouring in from all over the country.
“I was blown away. I think we had $25,000 by 7 p.m. that night, on the first day,” said Twilley.
Donations ranging from $5 to $5,000 came in, with many leaving messages of encouragement and sharing their own stories.
One donor wrote: “I believe in you, Marveon! You will face many obstacles during your journey, but your continued faith, dedicated and kindness to humankind, you will certainly persevere. I’m proud of you young brother.”
Another person who donated said: “Young men like him need the opportunity to better themselves and help pay it forward. My dad needed the help of others to help him get his college degree and it allowed him to help educate 8 nieces and nephews and it changed their families lives, forever.”
Another person that donated $2,500 said. ”What an amazing young man. We will get you to Morehouse.
Today, the GoFundMe page is going strong, with more than 450 donors and $88,597 already raised.
What’s Next for Marveon Mabon
Mabon has always been driven by strong women. He recalls his mother, who works four jobs to support him and his siblings, his aunt and god mother, who helped raise him and who recently passed away from ovarian cancer, as the people who made him who he is. Stacy Twilley is now part of his list.
“Without Stacy, it would have most likely been impossible,” Mabon said.
Now, he said, he plans to be a “statistic breaker” and an example to other young men.
After college, Mabon plans to come back to Watts. He wants to get involved in local politics with hopes, he said, of moving up to the state, federal and executive-level. He eventually plans to go after the presidency, he said with conviction.
And, above all, he wants to give his family a better life. “My great-great grandmother moved her family from Louisiana to the Imperial Courts Housing project. The Mabons have been living here ever since. My uncles, cousins, nieces,” he said. “I hope to be the one to stop us from living in the projects and low-income housing.”
But never does he plan to forget his community.
”When it comes to my community I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer. I am going to bring the resources my community wants and needs,” he said. “I want to truly redefine the zip code. Not by displacing people but helping people who live here with resources and stuff.”
In the meantime, seeds are being planted and the garden is starting to grow.
“We are putting in fruit trees in here. It is really exciting,” Twilley said. Soon there will be a sitting area and a place for the community to convene. “Tomorrow we are planning the vegetables in the vegetable boxes. There has been a shortage of citrus trees, but those are coming in on the 17th.”
“It’s been a really fun project with a really fun group of people,” she said. “Everyone comes out and gets dirty cleaning up the garden and planting to rebuild the garden.”
And all of it was thanks to Mabon’s vision, Twilley said. “He thinks big and I really like that,” she said.
“He has a real love and puts his heart and soul into the community and it is really amazing to be a part of,” she added.
Mabon said the idea of the community garden was prompted by his anti-bullying initiative. “Statistics show people who bully have been bullied. How can we stop that cycle?”
He said that led him to create the community gardens.
“We call it ‘unity’ gardens because it brings the community together. You can’t spell ‘community’ without ‘unity.’”