At 13, he was separated from his siblings. Now, he is their example.

When Edward Merced enrolled in Jones High School in Orlando at sixteen years old, administrators wanted to place him in ninth grade. He had just moved up from Miami, where he had bounced from school to school (at least twenty elementary schools, he remembers). The inconsistencies in his educational background meant that he, quite possibly, wouldn’t be equipped to perform at a tenth grade level. But administrators gave him an opportunity to prove them wrong and to be an example for his three siblings. That was in 2017.

“It was just the sunrise,” Edward says, reflecting on that period. Now, at nineteen years old, he is preparing to graduate from high school and make a choice between attending Bethune-Cookman University, Full Sail University, Stetson University, and Valencia College. 

“I’m just picking and choosing,” he says. 

In order to graduate with his peers, Edward took on more classes.

I was still doing ten to twenty hours in my work, and then I was also doing school, and then doing online school at the same time,” he remembers. “So it was just scheduling time management and, you know, I was able to do it.”

He also joined MAN UP Mentoring Inc., a faith-based nonprofit in Orlando’s Ivey Lane Homes, a public housing authority. He remembers reluctantly attending the first meeting after being coerced by a friend and his father.

“It’s a blessing that I was forced to go,” he said one recent afternoon during a Zoom call, laughing. “But it was just a blessing that I got to stay. They did a lot for me. They taught me a lot about school. I was able to go to Tallahassee to see a lot of places I never seen,” he said. “I get to do projects from people that I’ve never met. And I’m just I’m just excited, so, you know, show my brothers what I can be and what they can become.”

Edward’s journey has not been easy. At twelve years old, he witnessed his father get shot in the face. By age thirteen, he was in foster care, separated from his three siblings. 

That was the hardest moment that I can remember, you know? Just at least not having one of them with me,” he says. “My foster parent was such an awesome person. She taught me a lot. I was going to church with her and it made me not give up,” he remembers. “I got to meet a lot of people. I got to meet my pastor. I got to meet my foster brother.”

He also was able to experience his family grow closer. You know, [my dad], he’s made a lot of mistakes. My mom’s made a lot of mistakes. No one’s perfect. But the drive of them seeing that they were doing their job wrong and, you know, just fighting for us to get back with them is just a blessing.”

These days, Edward’s goal is to remain an example for his younger brothers. He plans to go to school for business administration. He also loves technology. 

When asked what words of wisdom he has for other people who have gone through some of the same experiences, he says, “Everyone in the world has their own story. And, you know, there’s two sides to that coin. You’re either going to embrace your story and make sure you become an honorable person or you’re going to submit to that journey and just face facts and think that life’s over at that point. And I decided to take it in my own free will and make sure that my brothers have someone that they could depend on.”

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