September has been a whirlwind month for Western Kentucky freshman RaShaan Allen.
He’s a redshirt freshman on the WKU football team and just just re-joined the team after spending time in the nation’s capital.
“It was actually my second time there, but I’ve never seen Washington like that. I got to do so many things. I got to meet the president. I got a tour of the Pentagon and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I got to do community service activities at the VA hospital. It was just an amazing experience and I couldn’t let it pass me by.”
Allen, the son of Army Sgt. 1st Class Crystal Singer, was honored in Washington after he was named the Boys and Girls Club of America Military Youth of the Year and he received a 20-thousand dollar scholarship. But the 18-year-old's journey hasn't always been easy.
It was late August 2005 when Allen and his mother were living in Algiers Parrish just outside of New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina was bearing down.
“We had to leave within the blink of an eye. We ended up losing our house. We ended up moving back about six months to a year later. We ended up moving to Belle Chasse, La. and that’s when everything started to go wrong I started getting in trouble and I really started to blame the world for my struggles.”
In eighth grade, Allen found himself at Fort Knox where he attended to the Devers Youth Center.
“I had no future aspirations and I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, I just knew that I wanted to play sports," he said. "The club showed me that sports wasn’t everything and that college was the roadmap for success. I had to set my future goals and have future aspirations so I could strive for them.”
Dwight Coble, who works at the youth center, says two leadership forums help build RaShaan’s self-confidence. He says Rashaan wanted to attend a third conference, but the rules didn’t allow it.
“He actually applied to become a junior adviser for the youth leadership forums. When he did that, there was only five individuals selected throughout the whole region and he was one of them,” said Coble. “Of those five, he basically led the whole forum by himself because the others didn’t step up, for some reason. But he stepped up and led the whole contingent.”
Coble says as Allen himself matured with the help for the Boys and Girls Club, he started passing those lessons on to others.
“When he first came to us, he had a 1.5 GPA and he graduated high school with a 3.5 GPA. So that’s something he liked to give back helping individuals with their homework and helping tutor them."
RaShaan stayed busy at Fort Knox High School, playing eight varsity sports in addition to his studies and helping others at the youth center.
“At Fort Knox, he was the team captain of the basketball team, so he liked to help the youth there. We have a pretty sizeable gym and he would help them with their shots and give them some advice and stuff like that,” said Coble.
Both Coble and Allen agree that having a parent in the military can be both a positive and a negative. Allen recounts the years of moves and new schools.
“I would definitely say moving is one of the big issues. I went to eight different schools during eighth grade. I went to three different high schools. It was hard and you have to be able to adapt to different environments and new terrain. You just have to overcome obstacles,” said Allen. “I’m not going to say it was a bad thing, I’m going to say it was a good thing for me because it taught me that wherever life takes me, I can’t complain about it. I just have to step up to the plate and be ready to ‘man up’."
The Military Youth of the Year award, the scholarship and his subsequent trip to Washington, D.C. was the culmination of a long process.
“It took about a month-and-a-half to complete. You have to get essays, you have to get support letters, you have to get news articles, you have to get letters of recommendations. It was a long extensive process”
But Allen says the work was worth the effort.
Allen’s Hilltopper teammates and friends now jokingly call him “Mr. President” after his meeting this month with President Obama.
“He’s a really good guy,” said Allen of Mr. Obama. “He’s amazing, he’s funny and he gave me the opportunity of my life. Not many people get to say they got to meet the president and I’m one of those lucky people."
Allen says after WKU, he wants to attend law school at Stanford, and then, perhaps a return to Washington.
“Right now I’m double-majoring in political science and theater. My future goal is to work on Capitol Hill one day.”