At first glance, Rasheem Thornton seems like any other outstanding Loudoun County student. He excels on the football field and track, and in the classroom. He’s quick to make friends, hardworking and considers himself pretty fortunate.
But his life wasn’t always like this.
After spending his early years in an upper-middle class Lansdowne neighborhood, his father was arrested and found guilty of drug dealing. At 7 years old, he moved with his mother to Charles Town, WV, to find affordable housing. Rasheem gave up on school, which at one point landed his mother behind bars on truancy charges. She later became sick and lost her job, and eventually got to a point where she couldn’t afford to care for Rasheem. In January 2013, she asked the mother of Rasheem’s good friends, Kyle, Tyler and Autumn Brown, if she could take him in.
“I’ve known them since I was 9, and they really brought me into the family,” he said.
Trevor and Amanda Brown became like surrogate parents for Rasheem, and their children like siblings. When he started high school, first in West Virginia and later at Loudoun Valley, he didn’t care much about grades. “I wanted to go into the military so I didn’t think I needed to try hard and get good grades,” he said.
But the Browns told him that if he kept his grades up and excelled in sports, he could earn a college scholarship. That was the nudge he needed. He got his GPA up to a 2.9 and helped carry the Loudoun Valley football team to the playoffs last fall. Just as the Browns predicted, he earned a scholarship to play football for Shenandoah University. There, he’ll study physical therapy or athletic training.
But first he’ll accept his high school diploma to the applause of his family—both the Browns and his biological mother. “I call both of them moms,” he said of his biological mother and Amanda Brown. “It means the world to me, honestly, to have both my moms there on graduation day.”
And next year, his father’s prison term is up, and Rasheem hopes to again have a relationship with him. “I want to connect with him again. I think he’ll be proud of how I turned out.”