Sheree Lewis-DeVaughn always did her best for her son, Elijah, but making it work wasn't easy.
Sheree raised her son, who goes by E.J., alone. His father was incarcerated when E.J. was just 6 months old. And life in Compton was challenging, sometimes downright dangerous.
"It was kind of late at night, my mom ran into my room, and they were shooting outside. So we would lay, actually, right there, kind of looking at each other. I was just...looking at my mom for strength," described E.J.
But that moment, he said, changed him.
"I was like, 'I got to do something,' you know, I was moved to action," he said. "At such a young age, I was like, 'We can't be here forever.'"
Now, E.J. is getting out of there. He got accepted to Harvard University, an Ivy League school.
"I get chills in my body just thinking about it. At that moment, I knew my life had changed," he said.
He credits his mom with getting him there, and she credits him with giving her the strength to be a mom.
"He would take me from my darkest moments and give me that light I needed to go on," she shared.
A longtime teacher, Sheree wanted to parent by example and earned her master's degree when E.J. was about six.
He worked hard to achieve his goals, immersing himself in his studies, and was accepted to a prestigious high school in Palos Verdes - about 45 minutes away. There, he excelled - using the long commute to study - and becoming a star football player, a track athlete and a leading actor in the school's productions. All the while, he never lost focus of his academic goals.
"Everything in his life is preparing him for his future," the proud mother said. "He has been through a lot, he has seen a lot and guess what? It made him stronger."