For Jeronimo Maradiaga ’09J, the walk around the South Bronx one rainy March morning was filled with nostalgia—a tour of the landmarks of his life.
The south entrance to the Bronx Zoo
, where Maradiaga worked at a concession in high school to help support his family. The discount store on 179th Street, where he worked a second job, hefting boxes in a dusty stockroom. The apartment house at Addams Place, where he lived as a small child—until thieves tore the front door off the hinges. Another apartment on an unpaved back street, Old Kingsbridge Road, where he and his older brother, Oscar, played baseball before the family was eventually evicted.
“I loved this neighborhood,” Maradiaga said, gazing down the row of tenements and the graffiti-scribed stoops. “We’d be playing out here. We were friends with some of the drug dealers who worked around here. They would come to us and say, ‘You guys should go inside right now.’ And we’d go inside and we’d hear gunshots or whatever.”
He caught himself, aware, as he often is, of how his upbringing can be misunderstood.
“As odd as that might seem,” Maradiaga added, “it was a sense of community.”
He doesn’t tell that story very often, and he almost never did at Colby. Nor did many in the Colby community know that the intense, premed-sworn guy in the Yankees hat was responsible for his single-parent mother, who was seriously ill. That Maradiaga had been technically truant at 6,000-student John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx because he couldn’t work two jobs, do his homework, and go to school every day. That through much of his college career, Colby was Maradiaga’s permanent address because he had no other home.
“In the beginning I felt ashamed, almost like I’d try to hide it,” he said. “Toward the end I felt it was important for people to realize that someone from the South Bronx, someone who is economically impoverished, someone who was homeless most of the time he was at Colby, could be at Colby and be successful there. So when people asked me, ‘What do your parents do?’ I’d still, like, hesitate initially, but I would say, ‘My mom’s ill. I don’t know my dad. My dad’s been out of my life.”
It’s been a long time since Maradiaga has been ashamed. A Posse Scholar
at Colby, selected from New York City public schools for his academic and leadership abilities, he capped an academically successful, socially arduous, and sometimes fitful Colby career by winning a prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship
. Maradiaga is one of 40 fellows chosen from several hundred candidates nationwide. He received $25,000 to spend the year traveling around the world, asking young people in disadvantaged and marginalized communities to tell him about their lives and their notions of success.
He is looking for young people like himself. He plans to tell them that his own path has been one of both achievement and inner conflict, a collision of cultures. And then he will listen to and document their stories, giving a voice to those too often lost in the din.