At the age of 80, Reverend Willie Ryals from Tallahassee, Florida, defied the odds and rose above life’s obstacles by achieving his lifelong dream of earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice after spending years in prison.
Ryals started at Florida A&M University’s Developmental Research School but left to chase a singing career with various bands. Everything took a shift when he joined the American Army in 1962 after facing numerous challenges.
An unfortunate situation happened when intruders broke into the home of Ryals. After defending himself from intruders, Ryals was sentenced to 10 to 20 years for aggravated manslaughter.
Despite his circumstances, Rylas didn’t lose sight of his goals. He finished high school while in prison and even started taking college courses. After his early release in 1971, he realized his passion for criminal justice.
“While I was in prison, I saw a need for criminal justice reform. There are too many young Blacks going to jail for crimes that they didn’t commit, and there needs to be some changes,” Ryals told Blavity.
But life’s demands took over. Ryals first became a pastor leading the Zion Hope Community Baptist Church in Florida and raised a family. In 2021, Ryals decided to revisit his dreams. He enrolled in online classes to finally pursue a degree.
Now, after this incredible journey, Ryals has graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from American Intercontinental University, just three days before he turned 80.
Despite challenges like juggling pastoral duties and caring for his wife, Ryals persisted. His wife Mandy and daughter Marionette Taylor are proud of his achievement.