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After time spent homeless, new McDaniel graduate perseveres, earning Bates Prize

Dinambi Butler graduated from McDaniel College on Saturday.
Dinambi Butler graduated from McDaniel College on Saturday. (KEN KOONSSTAFF PHOTO, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Dinambi Butler has learned that people don't always know what they're talking about when they speak, so he tries to avoid making that mistake.

The recipient of McDaniel College's award for outstanding male member of the graduating class, Butler and his two older brothers were raised by a single mother in Washington, D.C., who was never working fewer than two jobs.

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"My mom only wanted one thing for [me], and she made me keep a promise to her to this day that I would go to school and do right by her and just do the best that I could," Butler said.

Butler graduated Saturday with a degree in exercise science and physical education. He received the Bates Prize at an honors convocation Friday.

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Butler said his mother never sugarcoated anything for her kids, including the months when he was in fourth grade during which the family was homeless.

"We had straightforward conversations ever since I was a child," he said. "She didn't want to hide it from me, and she didn't want to protect me from it because she knew once I reached a certain age, she couldn't."

Butler said his family was evicted after they found out their apartment building had been sold but the previous owner continued collecting rent. The family gathered necessities and left, staying with relatives when they could but mostly spending nights in shelters.

"It definitely was a tough time, but I think it's the closest my family has ever been," Butler said. "I think that was the time where I enjoyed my life with my family."

Butler said he doesn't hide his experience and willingly shares what he went through. He also cautions others against passing judgment when they haven't experienced a situation first-hand.

"I know that a lot of individuals who do speak, they don't always know," he said. "So I don't hold it against them. Some people just don't know. Some people just don't understand the situation so they speak of how they personally feel and not what they actually know."

During the approximately six months Butler's family was homeless, his mother continued to work at least two jobs and sometimes they went hungry because she was saving to find a new place to live.

"Not all homeless people are bums," Butler said. "Every homeless person isn't a negative connotation of just lazy and begging for change."

Butler said he tries to practice what he preaches and avoids passing judgment on people.

"I definitely do try to educate myself on something before I just start going on and rambling about it or try to make a decision on it," he said.

During his three years at McDaniel, Butler said, he stayed in touch with his family as much as he could, including through conversations with his mother catching up about their lives or sharing advice.

"My mom is like my best friend. We keep in contact all the time," he said. "We're not equals. We may be good friends, but we're not on the same level. She surpassed me. She has more wisdom than I do. She laid the foundation for me."

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When Butler spoke to her about enlisting in the Army National Guard, he said she was hesitant but supported him, telling him that if he wants to do it, she trusted that he did the research and looked into it.

Though he will remain on McDaniel's campus through the summer to work for the Department of Campus Safety, Butler will leave to finish his Army training in August. He hopes to go to graduate school and to eventually become a military police officer.

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