July 24, 2017 5:25 pm

Growing up with parents who suffered from addiction, Omari Amili had few role models in his life to show him what it means to be successful. He had little stability in his life and attended 15 different schools before he eventually dropped out of high school.

“I had to grow up really fast, and there were things I had to do to support myself that other kids didn’t have to deal with,” he said. “I was being led toward a criminal lifestyle, and I thought that being successful meant having money and material things.”

He did whatever he could to chase the life he thought he needed. And eventually, the path he chose led him to prison.

His experiences there proved to be the reality check he needed to make a change. “My major motivating factor was my children,” he said. The father of six knew he had to become the role model that he lacked as a child.  

“I knew I needed to turn my life around because it wasn’t just about me. I had kids to take care of, and I wanted to show them they didn’t need to settle for a certain life.”

But it wasn’t easy. He was released in June 2008 armed with a G.E.D. and little direction in life. He knew the jobs available to him were limited, and without an education, he had a long road ahead.

“I couldn’t keep working dead-end jobs, but those were the only jobs I could get,” he said. “I decided to enroll at Pierce College, which was a leap of faith because I had no idea what to expect as a first-generation college student.”

Thanks to the guidance of Pierce College faculty and advisors, Amili learned about direct transfer agreements (DTA), where students can transfer their credits to bachelor’s degree programs throughout the state. He earned an AA-DTA from Pierce College in 2011, and transferred to University of Washington Tacoma to pursue a bachelor’s degree. “Pierce College welcomed me, and gave me a chance to earn my admission to the University of Washington,” he said. “Coming out of prison, you always hear about the limitations you’ll have. But Pierce College showed me the sky is the limit.”

He earned two bachelor degrees from UWT, in Psychology and Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. In 2016, Amili also graduated with a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies.

“Without Pierce College letting me in, none of this would have been possible,” he said. “Pierce College pretty much saved my life, and it means the world to me that my children have been able to see me graduate from college and grad school.”

During his time in grad school, Amili created a 10-session college preparatory workshop for formerly incarcerated people. He is devoting his life to giving back and helping others turn their lives around through higher education. “It is a major lifestyle change going from being locked up, to becoming a college student,” he said. “The education I received comes with a duty, and I feel like I can’t be successful if I’m not helping other people and sharing my knowledge.”