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A Long Time Coming

The Long family's journey began some 1,800 miles away. But once you meet them, it's not hard to see how it led them here.

By Allison Iacone | Photo by Marie Ketring

The Long tradition: Kenyardar, Billy, Demarrio and Deyvon.

There’s a long tradition and a Long tradition being celebrated at WITC this year.

The long tradition: the college’s Centennial, celebrating 100 years in the city of Superior.

The Long tradition: Billy, Demarrio and Deyvon.

The three brothers are enrolled in the human services associate degree program at WITC-Superior. Billy, 26, will be among the program’s first graduating class this spring.

The family’s journey began some 1,800 miles away. But, once you meet them, it’s not hard to see how it led them here.

Billy spent the first 12 years of his life growing up in the west end of Las Vegas. He describes it as a rough neighborhood, one where he chose to avoid mischief by staying inside. He says his mother told him, “If you’re going to go out, make it worthwhile.” It was as much a warning to stay out of trouble as a call to make a difference.

Billy took those words to heart, spending time as a child helping his grandmother, great-grandmother and others in need both in Las Vegas and, later, while living in Arkansas.

But those years were also marked by struggle. Demarrio, 21, says difficult circumstances forced his family into periods of homelessness. He remembers briefly living in a shelter as a young child. Another time, he says, his family lived out of their car.

“The feeling was a bit unpleasant at first but I got a little used to it and realized at a young age that people are worse [off] than we are or been through this longer than we had,” he says. “It made me stronger and wiser as a person.”

That ability to find a silver lining is a common thread with the Longs.

After several years in Arkansas, the family, which then included Deyvon (born in 1993), moved back to Las Vegas. But, Billy says, his mother had tired of city life. A visit to a friend in Canada convinced her to move her family north. From there they eventually settled in Superior.

While Deyvon and Demarrio enrolled in elementary and middle schools, Billy spent time trying to find his way; working full-time, starting programs at another local college, but never finding the right fit. He began looking closely at WITC-Superior in 2009 after older sister, Kenyardar, 29, earned her nursing degree from the school.

“It almost sounds cliché, but my idol has always been Dr. Martin Luther King,” Billy said. “When I saw that WITC was starting a human services program I thought it was where I should be.”

He enrolled in fall of 2010 and immediately became a presence on campus, joining the Campus Activities Board, the Green Team, the Human Services Associate’s Club and most recently serving as Student Senate President. His fellow students have taken notice.

“Billy has a type of leadership ‘magic’ that enables him to excite, lead and organize groups of people to go beyond what they may have thought possible,” says human services instructor Johanna Garrison.

Demarrio became equally involved soon after enrolling in the spring of 2011. While he already devotes his free time volunteering at local shelters and parks, he dreams of using his degree in human services to build his own non-profit agency dedicated to helping people find the services they need.

“I want to live by example. I feel like I can use the adversity I experienced in my own life as a tool to empower others,” says Demarrio.

Deyvon was just 17 years old when he entered the Human Services program at WITC-Superior in the fall of 2011. He credits WITC with helping him shape his future, calling it an important stepping stone.

“It’s a hands-on program,” Deyvon says. “We do as much [field work] in two years as many people do in four-year schools.”

Deyvon says, upon graduating with his human services associate degree from WITC, he plans to ladder into the baccalaureate program at The College of St. Scholastica in Duluth. WITC and St. Scholastica have joined together to offer a transfer opportunity for WITC’s human services grads to complete their B.A. in social work.

Both Billy and Demarrio say they are strongly considering that path as well.

Through it all, the Longs have stayed together. They continue to live together with their parents and three other siblings. Perhaps not surprisingly, the parents who taught their children the value of making a difference continue to serve vital roles in their lives.

“They are all I have and all I know,” Deyvon explains. “Tough times have kept us together.”

For the rest of WITC’s students and staff, the Long family bond will never be felt like it is this year. Billy is set to graduate in the spring and Deyvon will take a year off to enlist in the Army National Guard. Demarrio will be in attendance slated to graduate in the spring of 2013. But, however brief, their spirit of involvement and commitment will be felt for years to come.

“Each brother has his own personality and strengths,” says Garrison. “No matter which path they choose in human services, they will have the opportunity to be successful and make a difference in the lives of others.”

For more information about the Human Services Associate program, click here.

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