Three years ago, Bryjan (BJ) Vann was a high school sophomore and a budding sports star.

The San Bernardino High School student thought an athletic scholarship was his only chance of attending college. 

“I told myself that if I didn’t get a scholarship from sports, there’s no way I could afford college,” BJ said.

As one of 10 kids in his family, BJ grew up in rough neighborhoods and learned a lot about survival in a relatively short amount of time.

“Days after moving into our new apartment, a neighbor was murdered and I still remember the blood being hosed off the sidewalk,” BJ said. “Washing clothes by hand, sleeping on the floor—that’s nothing new to me.”

A football injury revealed an irregularity in his brain and because of the risk of permanent injury, a doctor told BJ to avoid all types of contact sports.

BJ said it was during his junior year of high school that he seriously thought about college. By the time he was a senior, he wanted to coach and teach but didn’t consider college because of finances.

That all changed when he heard about the newly-expanded Valley-Bound Commitment program that provides the first year of college free for local high school students. 

BJ applied, was accepted and started taking classes as one of 89 freshmen in the SBVC program in August 2009.

“I’m thankful for this opportunity and am looking forward to giving back to the community,” BJ said. “Others in my family ask themselves, ‘Why me?’, but I’m into asking ‘Why not?’ I hope that I can share that perspective and some of my life experiences as a coach and teacher to help other kids deal with the challenges in their life.”