Insights From A Dreamer

Jalen Dunston

My journey with the Dream Academy has come a long way. At age 10, I realized I wanted to be an architect. My dream stems from my hobby of drawing and a desire to design things. At age 12, my relationship with God was rooted in my favorite Bible verse, Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding.” I periodically met with my Dream Partner, Pastor Classy Preston. She took the time to listen to me, encourage me, to look beyond myself, and pray with me.


In 2013, I attended the Legacy of Dreams Award Gala held at the Angus Barns Pavilions. I struck up a conversation with N.C. Representative Paul Stem and revealed to him a “Spoken Dream” of becoming an architect. As it turned out, that conversation began the process for me to have other important meetings and experiences along the way. One month after the Gala, I met with North Carolina Lt. Governor Dan Forest. I also met with an architect in Durham NC and was able to spend the afternoon with him at his place of business. I was a part of an organized tour at North Carolina State University in 2014 to experience the architectural/design world. I attended a N.C. state design camp to learn more about my dream of being an architect.

These events and memories made me the man I am today. I am very grateful for the time I spent during my youth with the Dream Academy. But now, my story takes me to a new passion. Along the way, I discovered I have a gift of empathy and kindness for others. I began to think beyond myself and focused more on wanting to help others and my community. These thoughts all began in a football game at Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School. I was on the second string of this game. On the sixth play, I tore my ACL. It wasn’t a major loss to the team, it wasn’t a championship game or any defining moment with a scout in the stands. I was just another athlete getting hurt in the crossfire of an incoming linebacker while I was the lead block for our running back. But that game changed my life in terms of how I saw people every day.


I sat down on the bench while our athletic trainer, Mr. Purdie, evaluated my knee and told me I needed to go to urgent care immediately. Immediately, I didn’t care about us losing or if we scored on that drive, but how this man genuinely cared about my health without question. I was on crutches for a couple of weeks and started physical therapy. Rehab wasn’t about getting a day closer to getting back on the field playing a sport I desperately wanted to play, but instead, each day was about getting closer to being the best possible person I could be in life. During rehab, I learned the unwavering commitment my trainer had to his job and realized that while I love to draw, I wanted to use my drive and determination to do for other people what Mr. Purdie did for me. This encounter changed my outlook on life, not so much in the way I view sports, but how I view someone else’s well-being over my own. I started by slowly changing the way I viewed friends, family, and loved ones in general. I started putting others before myself, I became more selfless and strived to be not like the man who opened my eyes but better. I believe everyone has their own problems, not just physical injuries, but emotional, mental, and psychological issues and I want to help build people back from their broken or injured places.


My injury was an eye-opener. While most people have had breakthroughs in life with businesses, new opportunities, and scholarships to dream colleges my experience turned me into the dream I was destined to follow. Since my injury, I have dedicated my life to making people’s lives better overall, and it has pushed me to become a better me. The Dream Academy played a major role in helping me to dream my dreams and to reach for them.


In my lifetime, I have dealt with hardships, insecurities, and tribulations that have been difficult to overcome, and I still have time and will continue to move forward in life. I believe college is going to be the next milestone in which I can grow as a person with people that share the same issues as me and people who can help me as much as I can help them. I want to surround myself with people who are trying to achieve, will achieve, and have achieved their goals to become successful in life. These things were backed and reinforced by my parents, grandparents, and Pastor Classy Preston, my dream partner, who helped me along the way, by understanding that someone can change their dream and continue to move forward in life.


I am graduating in May 2020 and headed to North Carolina A&T State University in the fall. My dream and desire are to become a nurse and attend graduate school to become a physician assistant. Who knows, my dream may go beyond that. The Dream Academy and my support system have taken me in and while starting with one dream, let me grow, and equipped and empowered me to find new passions and a new dream!

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