Dylan needs no introduction, as in the last two weeks he’s been all over local and national news. NBC, CNN, CBS, The Shade Room, you name it. He’s literally everywhere. Dylan’s story is incredibly inspiring. I was one of the last to get an interview with him. I felt like I was sitting with a celebrity.
When the news broke out about Dylan and his accomplishments, and I reposted it on my IG Story, I got two messages – one from Safa, one from David of WHEALTH. They said they met Dylan at our first ever Youth Networking Event, and Dylan got an internship with Dave out of it! You never really know someone’s story, and I was so excited that he came to our event. It was fun to reunite with him to hear his story.
We were scheduled to meet at my office, but then got word from City Hall that he’d be meeting the mayor so we were able to interview him right after his meeting in a conference room in City Hall. This is definitely a highlight of my blogging career, to interview such an inspiring person inside the walls of City Hall amongst other news outlets. I could really get used to this.
I suggest getting a box of tissues before reading or watching this interview.
We love you, Dylan! We’re so excited to be a part of your journey. We can’t wait to see you take over the world.
What’s your name?
So, everyone knows who you are. Usually when I interview people, I ask them what they do. Everyone knows you. How does that feel?
At first, it was kind of overwhelming because I was still in school and my life changed overnight. At least it’s for a good cause, that’s what I’m really excited about.
You’re a high school student, a senior at Snyder. Tell me your story and how we got to this point.
I came to America from Trinidad when I was seven years old. I moved to Brooklyn first and we stayed there for a while, until 2016. Then the prices went up in New York, so we came to Jersey City. It was a new place and everyone was so nice. We stayed in the Greenville area, close to my school, but then my mom lost her job. We became homeless in May 2017. That night, we stayed in a motel because she had money saved up, but we didn’t know what we were going to do the next day. She had to go back and forth from the shelter to the welfare office, having our suitcases back and forth, while we were in school. We finally got a permanent room in the shelter so we were able to unpack our clothes. It was so scary because we didn’t know anyone there and you never know anyone’s intentions. You never know if someone’s going to steal your stuff, you know?
To mom, Khadine Phillip –How many children do you have?
Khadine: I have three boys.
How was that experience for you?
Khadine: It was tough because even though we were going through it, I didn’t tell them everything I was doing. I didn’t want them to be scared or stressed, so I didn’t tell them everything. It was very tough, especially having to take our stuff from the shelter to the welfare office, everybody looking at you and talking behind your back, snickering. It was really tough.
To Dylan – What happened next?
Dylan: Around that time, I always took advanced schooling because I wanted to have what I have now – work study. I’d be able to go during lunch and work. I took advanced gym and health from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM, and then I’d work and get home around 8 PM. It was ind of difficult to get home around then because of “lights out” and I wasn’t able to focus. Everyone was moving quickly and I wouldn’t be able to focus as a student really well. That took a big effect on my grades. My GPA took a drastic drop and I knew it was finally time to tell my school. When I came back during my junior year, I told my school what was going on and they really helped me through the process. They helped me get back to the academic level that I was before.
That’s amazing. As a mom, you’re going through this tough time. How was that?
Khadine: A lot of tears, a lot of praise, but I got through it. I kept them grounded, tried to instill in them my own rules and regulations, even though we had rules and regulations for the shelter. We just tried to keep them as one.
It sounds like you had a lot of support from your school and WomenRising. How did that help you get to where you are?
Dylan: At first, I didn’t really know about WomenRising that much. Then we went to this building for a Thanksgiving celebration they had and that’s when I met everyone who was in the same situation as me. They were happy to help. I was grateful that they were helping my family get through our situation.
Right. So you worked hard, got your grades up. Then what?
I knew I wanted to apply to colleges. Around the end of my summer internship, the Common App opened and I studied it as soon as it was opened. I knew I wanted to go to college. I didn’t know how I was going to afford it but I knew with the goals I wanted to achieve, I’d have to get this education in order to achieve the career I wanted.
I started to applying everywhere. Around October, when I got my first acceptance letter, I sat down with my school and family to decide where I want to go. I knew I wanted to go far enough where my mom couldn’t reach me, but not so far that I couldn’t go back home if I wanted to because I have my brothers there. They’re growing up and I want to be there for them. So I decided to stay in New Jersey and I applied to state schools – Ramapo, William Patterson – but I also wanted to challenge myself. I applied to schools that were hard to get into and didn’t know I was going to get in. I applied to Quinnipiac University and Xavier University, which is in Ohio.
They’re really great schools and I wanted to challenge myself. Then they just started coming in every Saturday and I was like, “Wow.” I couldn’t have possibly known beforehand that I would have gotten accepted, so I felt accomplished. Even though my family and I went through this tough time, it was like we got through it and look what we’re doing now.
And now you’re an inspiration to other kids. It’s amazing. When I saw, I was crying. How old are your brothers?
They’re 11, turning 12 soon.
Do they look up to you?
They do, they copy everything I do.
It’s a tough act to follow! You heard recently that you got accepted into your school of choice. Can you tell me how that felt?
I was in Health class and my friend Daisy came in and said, “I think I see your mom outside.” I didn’t if there was anything happening, so I called my mom to ask her. She said, “No, why would I be at your school?” Then the principal called me into the office, and we went to the conference room. I walked in and saw TCNJ, and I was really excited. I didn’t know they were coming, but everyone around me knew and didn’t tell me. It was a great surprise. I was shocked, I didn’t know what to say. I was excited to get into the school I’ve been wanting to get into since sophomore year. It was a really great experience.
How did the story come out that you got accepted to all these schools?
My mom was bragging about me to WomenRising and then they decided to reach out to news outlets. At first, they didn’t want to pick it up because of the scandals going on with the colleges. CBS New York came and picked it up, and then everyone saw how good it was doing and how much it blew up. CBS National came and that’s when it went viral. It felt good that I could be an inspiration to others. People would message me and say, “I’m going through the same thing now and your story is helping me get through this with my family.”
It’s amazing. Regardless of circumstance, you were able to overcome it and do something incredible. You’re inspiring tons of people, you’re inspiring ME and I’m not even in high school. How did your friends react?
At first, the group of friends I have all got into several colleges but no one knew that I was homeless. When the news broke, I got a ton of people calling me and asking, “Why didn’t you tell me?” Nothing would’ve been different, but I was ashamed and it’s something a lot of people go through. I was mad at myself because they’re my closest friends and I didn’t tell them. I think that made it stronger because now they know every part of me and we made a stronger bond.
Do you have prom coming up?
Yeah. My prom is June 7th, but I don’t have a suit yet. Hopefully it goes well!
What are your summer plans?
For TCNJ, I got into this program called EOF and it’s for low-income families who’ve been accepted to the college already. You’re around kids who are in the same situation as you. It’s a six-week summer program with college classes. You sleep there, basically start the college life earlier than everyone else.
That’s awesome. The thing is, you didn’t just focus on good grades. You also focused on internships. I met you for the first time at our first Youth in JC networking event. You were talking to everyone, listening, and then I find out through Safa that you were there! And then David from WHEALTH told me you interned for him. Tell me a little bit about the extracurricular activities that helped you get into these schools.
I’ve been Senior Class President since the beginning of sophomore year. I’m also on the citywide Student Council, where all schools in Jersey City come together. I’m in a lot of clubs including National Honor Society.
How do you have time for all of this?
Sometimes I spread myself too thin, so I make a list of what I have to do every day. I prioritize school because even though I got into these colleges, I still have to graduate. Then I have community service activities afterward.
What other internships have you done?
The first job I had was with the city. I worked in the Lafayette pool in 2017 as the Locker Room Attendant, so I basically cleaned up and made sure everything was okay before going home and opening the next day. The last internship I did was in 2018 with the mayor’s internship. We worked with businesses around Jersey City, and I specifically worked in NJCU. It was really nice, close to home, and across the street from my school so it was really easy to do.
I learned how to manage my time because even though it’s the summer, you still want to hang out with your friends and we worked 9 to 5. It felt like we were adults and it was foreshadowing the college life. I learned a lot about the Office of Specialized Services and how to use Excel. It was the first time they taught us computer skills, how to write a resume, stuff like that.
It was a great experience for me.
I’ve heard people asked you what you want to be, and you mentioned you want to be a lawyer. Why a lawyer?
I noticed when I first came here that there’s a lot of unfairness in the justice system in America. If I could use my education to help balance it out and make it fair, then I’d like to do that.
That’s awesome. Do you have a favorite Jersey City hangout spot?
I really like WHEALTH. It’s a great coffee spot. At first, I used to work in the cafe as a barista. When I started my night classes at Hudson, I ran the social media page and Journal Squared page. Then I had to stop because of the applications and deadlines. But that’s my favorite spot right now.
What do you do for fun?
I like going out to the movies and the mall. I like trying new places to eat. Last week, my friends and I went to Babo Teahouse. I like trying food that I know I won’t be able to get at home.
What do you love about living in Jersey City?
The community. Even though the bad stuff is mostly put out there, there’s a lot of good people that really help each other and lift each other up. I love the community I’m in.
What’s your favorite interview that you’ve done?
I would say it’s this one.
It’s local, it’s Jersey City. I love how you’ve been able to start your own business and start from nothing into the person you are now. I love ChicpeaJC.
Ah, I love you Dylan! Thank you so much! And thank you so much, Khadine!