Published: October 9, 2015
Students may know Laurance Strothers as the jokester who serves burgers and breakfast sandwiches on first-floor DeNaples, but few know his story.
“L” is from a rough area of North Philadelphia where he has seen three people killed on his block. More than 10 people he grew up with, including his older brother, are dead and another 20 are in jail.
L said in his late teens he realized he had to make it out of that area.
“Coming from Philly, a lot of my friends, a lot of my family members have been in and out of jail, locked up, fall victim and become a product of their environment,” L said. “My mom always told me, ‘Just because you’re from North Philly, you don’t have to act like you’re from North Philly.’ Plus I had my dad that lived out here so I had the opportunity to get away from that, so I took advantage of it.”
L, now 26, moved to Scranton when he was 19 and has paid for his education and his apartment himself. He is currently in his final semester at Penn State Worthington Scranton and will graduate with a degree in business management marketing. In addition to working 35 hours per week in the food court on first floor, he is taking 22 credits, including six classes and an internship.
L said he is able to balance school and work because of his drive to succeed.
“Motivation. I’m just determined. I want to do better for myself. I’m just focused on upgrading me and being the best possible me,” L said. “I’m just focused on the bigger picture like if I’m putting in 14-hour days right now, then imagine what I’m gonna do once I can really zone in on one thing and just focus on that.”
L’s mother, Cyndi Strothers, is a single parent and worked two jobs while teaching dance school to make ends meet during L’s childhood. She stressed to L that he had to earn everything and to be a leader not a follower.
“I’m very proud of him. He could’ve turned out to be the total opposite. He lost his brother when he was very young,” Cyndi said. “At this point and stage of his life, I am very very proud to say that Laurance Jamil Strothers is my son.”
Cyndi recently went back to college and graduated with a degree in human services and psychology from Chestnut Hill College in 2012. The two have a close relationship and Cyndi said she sings him “Shake it Fast” by Mystikal to cheer him up when he feels down.
“He has always been a jokester. He has his rough times when he calls me and he’s beside himself and I make him laugh then. We thrive off each other,” Cyndi said. “We have a very open relationship where I’m his mother, but we’re also friends. I feel like we’re the best of friends. We discuss everything.”
Jeff and Demetrious Smith, who are also cooks in DeNaples, are two of L’s four younger half-brothers. The two have moved in and out of L’s apartment and have become close with L since he moved here.
“He’s my brother. We don’t do that half stuff,” Jeff said.
Jeff said L is his role model.
“Everything we know—he basically molded what we are today,” Jeff said. “He was just always giving us a lesson or a lecture. He’s definitely a big influence in my life and our bond is so crazy right now. I seriously don’t think there’s any other bond like ours.”
Demetrious works at the grill station on first floor with L and the two are always laughing with themselves and the students. Demetrious said L has taken good care of him and Jeff.
“I guess you could consider it like a dad. My dad lives in South Carolina,” Demetrious said. “He is the closest, oldest brother, takes care of us, looks out when we need it.”
Just like L, Demetrious works tirelessly, working 100 hours over the last two weeks.
He said he has respect for L’s journey and he strives to be like him.
“He made it out. A lot of people don’t and he made it that point. That’s why he came here because he knew it was going to end bad if he stayed in Philly,” Demetrious said. “His friends, his cousins, everyone close to him was dying, going to jail, doing this, doing that. And he came here and now he’s on the right path finishing school this semester. He’s doing real good.”
Just like L’s mother, his girlfriend of three years Julie Zaleski is one of his major supporters. Working as a Scranton school district kindergarten teacher and a bartender at her family’s restaurant, Zaleski is also a hard worker.
She said every time she has been around The University with L, she notices all of his University friends.
“He’s social. Every time we go out, especially when we would go out down The U a couple years ago, that’s when people would just be like chanting his name. I’m like, ‘What the hell is going on’,” she said. “They all like him.”
After graduating, L plans to use his internship experience and degree to move into the business world.
After his past in Philadelphia, paying all his expenses and balancing work and school, L is confident he will be successful after college.
“It’s gotta pay off. I wish I had an easier route, but you’ve gotta play with the cards you’re dealt and that’s what it is for me,” L said. “It keeps me on my toes though. It keeps me motivated, like I know I don’t have room to slack off.”
When students leave the grill station, they will likely hear L tell them something that embodies his attitude. “Be easy.”
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