In 2009, high school students Jaiquann, Elijah, Darien and Barien were accepted into their dream universities but couldn’t afford to go. Along with being track stars and top students, the ambitious young men also worked to help support their single mothers.
“I live with my grandmother, my mom, and my sister,” Jaiquann told “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2009. “I grew up being the only man of the house.”
“He works till five in the morning to help support his family, and then wakes up two hours later just to come to school, and then go to track practice and do it all over again,” Elijah added.
Twins Darien and Barien, whose father was incarcerated, motivated the group to keep their grades up. “Well, I’ve tried to learn from my dad’s negative decisions, and it has influenced me to strive in school, and to get good grades,” Barien said.
When the boys were invited to fly from Delaware to Chicago to share their story with Oprah, they got the surprise of their life. Black Eyed Peas star will.i.am stepped in and gave all four boys the first-ever i.am scholarships, covering their tuition, books and fees for four years.
Five years later, “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” followed up with the young men to find out how they’re doing today. They filmed a video update, calling themselves “the four amigos.”
Barien, who says he was “flabbergasted” when will.i.am surprised them, is now in his second year of pharmacy school and says he will be graduating in 2016.
Elijah graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in May. “I want to get into the architectural field, so it’s just been a lot of years of hard work,” he says.
Jaiquann earned his degree in education from Cabrini College and is now a teacher. He admits that he was holding back tears when he found about about the scholarship. “I was cheesing really, really hard,” he says. “Because I was trying so hard not to cry on national TV.”
Darien is currently attending Morgan State University in Baltimore with plans to graduate with an industrial engineering degree next year. “I’ve also been working at a company that builds helicopters, and it’s been amazing,” he says. “I’ve been fortune enough to have a full-time position lined up for once I graduate.”
“For will.i.am. to give us the opportunity to go to college and get a quality education is something that I’ll remain grateful for the rest of my life,” Darien adds.
In return, the four men are paying it forward. “We’ve been going to a lot of elementary, middle and high schools just talking to the youth about how important it is to maintain high grades, how important it is to go to college,” Jaiquann says. “Basically, do whatever it takes to follow your dreams and meet your goals in life.