Abandoned at age 15, Sam Bracken battled homelessness, poverty, and abuse to successfully earn a full-ride football scholarship to the Georgia Institute of Technology. When he left for college, everything he owned fit in an orange duffel bag. Now, in this illustrated memoir and road map to personal transformation, Sam shares his story as well as everything he’s learned about overcoming the odds.
When I was 13-years-old and in eighth grade, a caring teacher discovered that I needed glasses. Up until that point, I’d always been in special education classes. I grew up in Las Vegas in a family that was like a whacked out version of The Brady Bunch on an episode of Cops. I suffered every kind of abuse imaginable and started drinking and doing drugs at age 9. Mobsters and motorcycle gang members were my role models. As an eighth grader I decided I didn’t want to be like my family. I stopped drinking and doing drugs and with encouragement from my teachers and lots of hard work, I went from a C and F student in special education to a straight A student. My mother suffered a mental breakdown when I was 15 and abandoned me. I kept my homelessness secret and graduated #11 out of more than 700 students. When I left Las Vegas for Atlanta after earning a football scholarship to Georgia Tech, everything I owned fit into an orange duffel bag. I share my story and my transformational change process—the 7 Rules for the Road—in a graphic mini-memoir/self-help book called My Orange Duffel Bag: A Journey to Radical Change.
My co-author Echo Garrett and I wanted the book to appeal to all learning styles—especially those visual learners who normally wouldn’t necessarily pick up memoirs or self-help books. My Orange Duffel Bag, winner of two international design awards and five awards in the young adult nonfiction and self-help categories, features more than 60 original images taken in locales around the world and quotes from brilliant thinkers through the ages. Although the first section covers painful subject matter, it is revealed in poetic fashion that takes the reader into that world, but quickly moves into a process for overcoming and triumphing in life.
Echo and I co-founded the Orange Duffel Bag Foundation (ODBF), a 501c3 nonprofit, to deliver certified coaching to at-risk youth (ages 12-24) on putting together their life plans and achieving their goals. Less than half of youth in foster care graduate from high school or get their GEDs. Only 2% go on to college or technical school and of those, a miniscule amount makes it to graduation. Those who age out of foster care are at high risk of becoming homeless, suffering addictions and abuse and/or becoming incarcerated. More than 70% of the people in our prisons report having spent time in homeless shelters or in foster care as children. My Orange Duffel Bag is geared toward giving all of our youth hope and helping them soar beyond their wildest dreams.
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