HOPKINS, Minn. (KMSP) - Deveyon Allen Chapman is a strong, charismatic kid with a fierce determination to succeed. He’s come too far to settle for anything less.
Deveyon was born on the west side of Chicago to a young single mother. For reasons we don’t know, she rushed her newborn out of the hospital before anyone noticed. He literally left without a trace. No name, no record of his birth.
Johnny Chapman is Deveyon’s uncle.
"She came to tell me she had a boy," said Johnny .
He was living with the family at the time. Their home was a run-down house shared with about 30 other relatives in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country.
"Every one of my friends that I grew up with, if they're not dead they're in the penitentiary," said Johnny.
He admits he was on that same track. Only now he had a reason to come home at night.
“I'm laying down, I'm eating, laying down and he crawled right in front of me and look and his mother said he won't eat with nobody but me. And I guess that was our connection," he said
Once Deveyon reached school age, Johnny left Chicago to start a new life in Minnesota. For three years, he never looked back. Until the day a familiar voice pulled him back in.
"When my sister got shot in her leg, I called him and I said 'When you are coming to get me?'" said Deveyon.
Johnny had no idea Deveyon wasn’t in school.
"I always thought 'Oh he in school, so they're alright.' When I found he wasn't, that messed me up a little. I was like 'Wow, where he gonna wind up.' Only thing I see is gang-banging and death," he said.
Since Deveyon didn’t have any official identification, he couldn’t go to school. So instead of sending him to kindergarten, his mom sent him to live with his grandmother. But she was bedridden and already caring for four kids under the age of three. Now that job was Deveyon’s.
"Like I have to feed them, watch TV with them, play with them. Not let them out of the room because if they went out of the room they would bother their grandma," said Deveyon.
This went on for a couple of years. Deveyon was now eight going on 18.
"If my older cousins saw a gun they would pick it up and take it to my grandma's house and hide it and I didn't like that because if a baby saw it, it could've killed himself," said Deveyon.
Back in Minnesota, Johnny and his wife, Kelly, were tangled in the courts trying to get guardianship of Deveyon. It eventually came down to a simple piece of paper. Deveyon’s mother met them on a street corner in the old neighborhood, signed the paper, gave Deveyon a suitcase, a dollar and a hug good-bye. Kelly, who raised eight kids of her own, knows it couldn’t have been an easy decision.
"I really believe that she was doing it out of love," said Kelly. "I believe that she lost all hope of ever knowing what to do to get him in [to school]."
Johnny, who didn’t have kids of his own, was nervous, but knew they were doing the right thing.
"It was a good feeling for me because I know now that we got him. We got him now. We on our way out of Chicago," he said.
Johnny and Kelly opened their small apartment to Deveyon. Their living room is now his bedroom. He finally has the stability and safety he’d always wanted. And he’d need it to clear his next hurdle.
"That was a shock to them too that a kid never been to school that age," said Johnny.
When Deveyon arrived in Minnesota, he was a nine-year-old boy who had seen too much and not nearly enough.
"He didn't know his shapes, colors, he didn't know how to tie his shoes," said Johnny.
Kelly remembers how challenging it was in the beginning.
"He was asked on one of the very first days of school to draw something that meant something to him. And he had no idea how to even draw. He didn't even know how to put a stick figure together," said Kelly.
The Chapman’s enrolled Deveyon in a Hopkins Elementary School. They tried to balance his social and academic needs, so they started him in third grade, one grade shy of the rest of his class. Johnny gave his nephew some advice on how to handle the pressure.
"I said there gonna be some kids in there gonna know how to do this work like clockwork," said Johnny. "They gonna know how to do it. But you know what? He always tell me, he said ‘I'm gonna be smart just like them.’ He never gave up, he never changed that attitude."
Barb Fishman is a learning specialist who has been working with Deveyon since he arrived.
"It's not about feeling bad for Deveyon," said Fishman. "It's all about what Deveyon is doing. And Deveyon was always willing to learn and he's like a sponge. I mean he just takes in everything."
His principal, Jeff Radel, agrees.
"For him to endure that and to show up to school every day with a smile on his face is pretty special," said Radel.
Deveyon is now finishing the fourth grade at Glen Lake Elementary. He’s 11 years old, going on eleven. Nearly two years after learning how to hold a pencil and sign his own name. Deveyon is reading to a group of kindergartners and writing the book on perseverance.
"I'm a really good reader, so I hope you like The Frog and Toad," Deveyon said to the group.
Principal Radel says he’s learned so much from Deveyon.
"Every single day I see him I just want to give him a hug and I want to embrace him because he is such a strong kid," said Radel.
A strong, charismatic kid with a fierce determination to succeed.
"That's my goal, goal. Like to stay in school, go to high school, get into college," said Deveyon.
Because he’s come too far to settle for anything less.
“Whatever you want to do, I'm behind you," said Johnny. "Now this is your race."
Dozens of people who know Deveyon and had been looking for ways to support him. This week, they started a special fund for him at Klein Bank for education-related expenses. If you’d like to contribute, you can drop off or mail your donation to any Klein Bank location. The benefit fund is set up in Deveyon Chapman’s name.
He also has GoFundMe page at this link.