Author tells Davis County residents about overcoming homelessness, abuse
Sam Bracken • He went from drug use to top of his high school class with help of friends, mentors.
Published: April 5, 2013 11:23AM
Updated: April 5, 2013 11:23AM
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Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Author Sam Bracken talks about his story of homelessness, abuse and neglect. at Viewmont High School, Monday, March 11, 2013.

Bountiful • There are 1,023 homeless students enrolled in Davis County School District.

A best-selling author can relate to each of them.

Sam Bracken, who wrote “My Orange Duffel Bag,” spent much of his middle school years homeless.

As part of the district’s Davis Reads program, themed on “Where I’m From,” Bracken shared his story with the community at Viewmont High School on March 13.

Bracken’s book is named for the orange duffel bag that held all his worldly belongings when he went to college. Despite growing up in an environment of abuse, neglect, drug use, abandonment and homelessness, he overcame obstacles to graduate top of his class from Las Vegas High School. Bracken went on to earn a degree in Industrial Management from The Georgia Institute of Technology and later an MBA from Brigham Young University.

Davis School District Homeless Services Director Mary Ann Nielson acknowledged there is very little help for homeless teens in Davis County. Proceeds from book sales at the event were donated toward the construction of a teen youth center.

While Bracken’s family was living a lifestyle that led to homelessness, prison, mental illness and early death, he learned to dream about a future that did not include drugs, alcohol or abuse. He was invited to stay with families who allowed him to see that the home and lifestyle he grew up in was not the norm and not the only way to live. With the help of teachers, mentors, coaches and friends, Bracken succeeded despite the odds.

As a teenager, Bracken had an epiphany, “If I kept doing what my family was doing I was going to be just like them. I had no idea how to change but I knew in my heart that I could.”

Bracken said that frequently the people most destructive to those trying to get out of a bad situation are the family and friends living the harmful lifestyle. “When I decided not to be like my family they ridiculed me for making good decisions” he said.

One of his first taste of success was through sports.

“I was jumpy from getting the crap beat out of me at home. I ran everywhere. In those days, we didn’t have psychotherapy or medications, you just got smacked upside your head. I learned very early on that if you hit someone hard in football, you are praised and you don’t go to jail,” said Bracken, who played for Georgia Tech.

“One of the biggest contributing factors for success in kids is for someone other than themselves or their immediate family to believe in them more than they believe in themselves,” Bracken said.

Teachers, administrators and people who cared changed the direction of Bracken’s life.

“I learned that if I hung around with smart people, I got smarter,” he said.

He hopes by sharing his story, he will help others understand that they too have control over their lives and despite insurmountable obstacles they have the power to change their lives for the better.

He challenged those in the audience to look at their lives and determine what stands in the way of achieving their goals. “What we do determines our results in life. If you can change your thinking you can change your life,” he said. “What must happen in the next 12 months to get you closer to your dreams?”

Viewmont High School Student Body Officer Dallin Wright was inspired by Bracken’s story.

“He was able through dedication to fight his way to the top. He refused to give up. Listening to him made me want to try harder to make the best of the circumstances in my life and to help those around me. I was surprised that so many in our community are struggling,” the senior said.

Bracken will continue to share his story in hopes of having a positive influence on the lives of others. “I was helped by people who changed the trajectory of my life and my goal is to help others. I have an immense feeling of reverence for the people who have helped me, and I can never repay them,” he said. “I want to help people regardless of their circumstances.”

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Twitter: @sltribDavis