When Richard Prince, a senior majoring in business, was told by a woman from his church that he should consider mentoring because he had a lot to offer, Prince was apprehensive.
When the 21-year-old walked into an office at the group home Carlton Manor off Westwood Terrace in St. Petersburg, his apprehension gave way to more nervousness.
“I was uneasy because I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t know what to expect from the kid I was about to meet,” Prince said.
Prince sat in a room across from 15-year-old orphan Davion Only and his caretaker Pattie Cleberg.
Cleberg reassured Prince that Only sincerely wanted a mentor and someone to speak to him.
When Only spoke up and told Prince he “just wanted someone who will spend time with him and care about him,” Prince’s fear subsided.
“For him to open himself up to me like that, knowing how many people have come and gone in his life, was just like … wow,” Prince said.
After they warmed up to each other and began talking, the two found a common interest: basketball.
“When he found out I played basketball, he really wanted to play basketball with me,” Prince said. “That was one of the things he said that kind of gave me an idea of what I could do with him and how I could go about building a relationship with him.”
Two weeks after their initial meeting, Prince picked up Only for their first outing.
The basketball court was the first stop they made.
Prince is a full-time student at USF St. Petersburg, works full time and spends hours studying for the LSATs in his free time.
Growing up however, Prince said his life was not unlike Only’s.
Prince grew up on the south side of St. Petersburg, an area with 20 percent unemployment and where a fourth of residents live below the poverty line.
Throughout his childhood, his mother worked multiple jobs and at the age of 11, his father left his family to go to rehab.
“I was old enough at the time to realize what was going on,” he said. “I knew that my dad needed help and I’d rather him get it than see him in the streets.”
Prince found an outlet for his frustrations in basketball, playing alongside his best friend and USF Tampa student Julius Forte, a senior majoring in communications and defensive end for the Bulls’ football team.
They spent their days on the court, having friendly competition over who could make the better shots.
“Richard and I have always had a friendly competitive thing going for anything and everything,” Forte said. “Instead of Batman and Robin, it was just two Batmans.”
Their competition also extended to the academic arena.
Both Prince and Forte excelled academically at John Hopkins Middle School and Boca Ciega High School, where they also played for their school’s sports teams.
During his senior year of high school, Prince got into Boca Ciega’s Executive Internship Program where he worked alongside Coco Eaton, the orthopedic surgeon for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Later, Prince would credit Eaton for inspiring his success.
After graduating from Boca Ciega, Prince was recruited by Lincoln Memorial University where he played for their basketball team for a year.
At the time, Prince was the only pre-medical athlete on the team.
Prince said he had a successful college basketball career until a freak accident in the gym caused him to tear his pectoral muscle and put him out of the game for good.
After that, he traveled back to St. Petersburg, where he began attending USFSP and working full time for Eaton.
He said he still makes it a point to travel up to Tampa every weekend to hang out with Forte as both of them work toward bettering themselves, despite where they came from.
“He came over the other night just to hang out and talk,” Forte said. “He was studying the LSAT and I just kind of looked at him and said ‘Man, you always wanted to do something like this and you are a semester or two away from being there’ and he told me ‘You always dreamt of playing football and doing all these things and now you’re a month or two away.’”
“It’s something we always dreamt of but couldn’t actually fathom ourselves doing it,” Forte said.
Prince said it was this drive to better himself and the others around him that he hoped to pass on as a mentor to Only.
After a few months of going on noutings with Only, talking to him about his problems and encouraging him to better himself, Prince thought he was finally making progress.
When Only said he wanted to go to college like Prince, he took him to the Library to study.
When Prince wanted to show Only the value of hard work, he took Only to meet his grandparents that he takes care of.
“It never was like,‘Oh, I’m going to teach him this today,’” Prince said. “I would just talk to him about whatever was going on in his own life and go off of what he was telling me.”
Slowly but surely, Prince said Only began to turn himself around: He got all As on his report card, he stopped misbehaving in his group home and started to control his temper.
Floyd Watkins, program manager at Only’s group home, said in an interview with Naples News that since being paired up with Prince through the One Child One Church program, Only has “come a long way.”
“He’s starting to put himself out there, which is hard when you’ve been rejected so many times,” Watkins said.
In September, Prince was shocked when Only walked into his church one Sunday morning in a suit and tie.
Only sat down next to Prince in the pew but wouldn’t tell him what he was there for. A Tampa Bay Times reporter was also sitting in the pews, following Only’s story.
“I kept asking him if he was going to speak or what he was going to speak about and all he would say is ‘You’ll see,’” Prince said.
Near the close of service, Only got up from the pew and walked up onto the altar.
Only told his story of what he had gone through growing up in foster care.
He told the congregation he had been holding on to the hope of one day being reunited with his mother until he recently found out she had died.
“My name is Davion and I’ve been in foster care since I was born,” Davion said, according to the Tampa Bay Times article. “I know God hasn’t given up on me. So I’m not giving up either.”
He told them he desperately wanted a family, and the only criteria he had was to be loved.
“I’ll take anyone,” Only said. “Old or young, dad or mom, black, white, purple. I don’t care. And I would be really appreciative. The best I could be.”
Prince was baffled.
“All I could think to do was give him a handshake and tell him that no matter what happened, we’ve built a relationship. We are family,” Prince said. “When you do stuff like that, no one really tells you ‘I’m proud of you’ because that’s just uncool to say. But I just felt like who else was going to tell him?”
When Only’s story made it to the front page of the Tampa Bay Times, Only and Prince received calls from a number of media outlets, including “The View.”
The pair traveled to New York for the first time, and Prince was seated in the front row where Only got to share his story on national television.
“I felt like a proud parent almost. For a split second I was like ‘Man, I’ve spent time with this kid every week and he must have been listening to be in this place’… It was crazy to see how it all just came full circle.”
While Prince takes pride in how he has been able to influence Only into wanting to better his life, he admits that the relationship is a two-way street.
“Mentoring made me realize how I needed to better myself as a person,” Prince said. “I wouldn’t be a real man if I’m not doing the things I’m asking him to do in my own life. If I’m telling him ‘Look, if you want to be great in your life, this is what you need to do,’ then he needs to see that within my character.”
Prince will be applying for an MBA program at Stetson University in a few months.
He said his ultimate goal is to return to New York and one day be a CEO of his own company.
Working with Only, Prince said, has encouraged him to be productive and positive every day — despite whatever struggles he goes through in his own life.
“I’ve seen all the things that Davion has gone through and it amazes me how he doesn’t have any resentment in his heart,” Prince said. “It makes me feel like if he can overlook all of those things and do better for himself, then I have no reason not to