Special Report: Keys to Success

(Source: Denise Mosley/WTVM)
(Source: Denise Mosley/WTVM)
(Source: Family)
(Source: Family)
(Source: Family)
(Source: Family)
(Source: Denise Mosley/WTVM)
(Source: Denise Mosley/WTVM)

(WTVM) – You might say the odds were stacked against him, he didn't grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth yet Columbus native Dr. Kevin Rome managed to rise above a poverty-stricken life to a level of success he never imagined.

Dr. Rome shares how he made it from living in the projects to becoming a university president.

Born and raised in Columbus, Georgia, at first life started out with Kevin Rome living a normal life with both parents.

At the age of two, his family moved to Atlanta where Rome attended catholic school, but those days were short lived.

"My father had a business what happened to us was and what I think happens to a lot of families when the parents divorced the father is gone and the mother is left to take care of the children." Said Dr. Kevin Rome, President-Elect of Fisk University.

A single mother with five children returned to the fountain city but this time to live in subsidized housing.

Kevin Rome grew up here in the Farley home projects on Shepperd Drive in Columbus. He started with humble beginnings but he didn't let that stop him.

"We were on welfare whatever that is, food stamps. So, I think that's pretty poor. We relied solely on government assistance," said Rome.

The new normal for Rome began in elementary school.

He recalls being bused to Double Churches Elementary on the north side of town instead of attending J.D. Davis Elementary, just feet away from his front door.

"To desegregate the schools and at the time I thought it was cruel because they would take the kids from the projects into this really nice neighborhood and we would go through and see these really nice homes and I would wonder who lives there and think I could never live in those because it just didn't seem possible," said Rome.

By the time Rome reached middle school, he was reassigned to his neighborhood school at Marshall Middle School.

Deloris Gilbert was his 7th-grade science teacher. She remembers Rome's as a focus-oriented star student.

"At that age, kids do and say things just because they are kids. He would always be focused on what he was supposed to do. He wanted good grades and he would figure out how to get there. So even though things were going on around him he never took part of it," said Rome.

Roslyn asks, "Miss Gilbert was a 7th-grade teacher at Marshall Middle School said she remembered you

being so extremely focused. You knew what was required of you and you did exactly that do you remember that about your life?"

"I don't and maybe it just happened and I do know I have a son who is very much like me and I just know I never wanted to get into trouble," said Rome.

Gilbert says Rome didn't take to sports but loved being in the band. She says he was always helpful to others and caring a character trait you might say he inherited from his mom.

"She didn't have a lot to give but she had loved so she gave us love and made sure we went to school and stayed out of trouble," said Rome.

Rome says his mother also had rules and she enforced them.

"We were fortunate to have a mom who was strict. We had friends who didn't have as much oversight. Mom made us come inside at dark. We would stand in the screen door and talk to our friends and they didn't quite understand that," Rome said.

Rome's obedience and willingness to study hard paid off in a big way, leading him to soar like an eagle after graduating from Spencer High School.

And those new heights have taken him to places like Morehouse College, the University of Georgia and many places in between before being named President of Lincoln University and now to his second job as president of Fisk University in Nashville.

Roslyn asks, "When you look back at your life and you see Dr. Rome and who you have become, what do you say?

"God is good that's the only thing I can think of, I don't' think I'm special, I've just worked hard," said Rome.

Now Rome lives in a mansion in Jefferson City, Missouri, as outgoing president of Lincoln University. Far bigger than the homes he was so impressed with while being bused across town to elementary school.

But the road to get here wasn't easy. He battled with depression while at Morehouse going to school with a lot of well to do students.

"I just kept working and I had dark days and I had good days but I didn't quite even when I wanted to and I hope they see that," said Rome.

Now Rome hopes to continue using his education and life lessons he learned from his mom's positivity, Miss Gilbert's class, along with the struggles growing as a poor kid in the trenches of Columbus to empower young people to improve their plight in life.

In July, he will join the ranks of these former presidents at Fisk University, one of the nations' elite historically black colleges and universities.

"Since college administration has been my life and when I retire in 10 to 12 years, I want to say we moved the dial. We took the university to a much better place," Rome said.

"The sky is the limit, whatever it is that he's trying to achieve, just give him and a little time and he will be there," said Gilbert.

Dr. Kevin Rome is very much a family man. He and his wife have two kids, his beloved mother still lives here in Columbus, and he also has a brother who is a police officer.

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