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From Homelessness
to Doctoral Degree:

Dr. Samose Mays and a Life Transformed

Written by Judy Tierney

Dr. Samose Mays seems to have it all – a loving wife, three boys and the job he’s dreamed about since high school. Mays earned his Doctor of Education with a specialization in sports management from NCU in 2016. Today, he splits his time between the North and South Bryan County Recreation Centers in Ellabell and Richmond Hill, Georgia, where he serves as recreation director.

Dr. Samose Mays Dr. Samose Mays

It’s hard to imagine just how different his life was only five years ago. Determined to complete his degree, but unable to make ends meet, Mays was officially homeless for almost two years.

Part-time jobs as a personal trainer and at a local recreation center helped pay for gas and food. “I'd wake up in my car, train my morning clients at LA Fitness, head to work at the rec center and then go back to the gym to train the afternoon clients,” he explains. “Then I would take a shower at the gym, hang out until they closed and go back to sleep in my car.”

Mays completed his NCU assignments, whenever – and wherever – he had the chance. He used computers at the rec center or library, scheduling his time around the hours they were open.

While he struggled to make ends meet, Mays excelled in school. “It never crossed my mind to give up,” he says. “I knew the doctorate would change my life. If I dropped out, I would have been a statistic, and I wouldn't be Dr. Mays today.”

Mays’ early attempts at higher education were not so successful. He dropped out after his sophomore year and began work as a special education teacher’s aide. From there, he served as the athletic director at the local Boys and Girls Club before becoming a house parent at the Joseph's Home for Boys. Mays also started a nonprofit track and field organization that helped dozens of kids get into college.

“It never crossed my mind to give up. I knew the doctorate would change my life. If I dropped out, I would have been a statistic, and I wouldn't be Dr. Mays today.”

—Dr. Samose Mays

Mays’ mother, who died of cancer when he was still in high school, inspired her son’s love for the community. She was active in the American Heart Foundation and served as the activity director at several nursing homes in his home town. The Elvera Mays Teen Center of the local Boys and Girls Club is named in her honor.

“The kids I supported were graduating, and I didn’t even have a degree,” says Mays. “I had such a passion for helping other people, but eventually, I decided I needed to shift that focus to myself.”

Mays enrolled at Georgia Southern University in 2009 and completed his bachelor’s degree in two years with As in all but two classes. Capitalizing on his momentum, he immediately entered the university’s online master’s program to pursue a degree in sports management.

Dr. Samose Mays Bryan County youth participate in rec
center baseball program

Initially, Mays lived with his father and stepmother and then relied on the generosity of friends. Paychecks from odd jobs helped cover some of the bills, but eventually he began to feel like he was a burden.

“I knew school had to be my priority, and I couldn’t give 100 percent to my academics if I took on a full-time job,” Mays explains. “At the same time, I was now in my mid-30s, and I couldn’t continue to depend on friends and family to support me financially.”

In 2013, after earning his master’s degree, Mays says he thought briefly about starting his career. “I was still on such a hot streak with my education,” he recalls. “I knew that no matter how hard it was going to be on me personally, I had to get my doctorate.”

For two years, Mays survived on the street, never letting on to family, friends or faculty members that he was homeless. Occasionally, he scraped together enough money from work or a student loan to afford a few weeks at an extended-stay hotel.

“I knew that no matter how hard it was going to be on me personally, I had to get my doctorate.”

—Dr. Samose Mays

“People would see my Facebook page or run into me around town and think I was perfectly fine,” Mays says. “I didn’t tell anyone about my situation because I didn’t want them to treat me differently.”

Mays persevered and by 2015 landed a job as an athletic director at the South Bryan County Rec Center. “My life literally transformed,” he says. “I finally had a decent-paying job in my field of sports management, a place to live and a relationship with the woman who is now my wife.”

Today, Mays runs both the North and South rec centers, which offer sports, summer camps and activities for kids and adults. His focus is on bringing new and innovative programs to everyone in the community. “If I can imagine it,” he says, “we’ll make it happen.”

He also teaches a class at Georgia Southern on managing recreation facilities. Several of his students have interned at the rec centers, and some are now working there full time. Mays says teaching students and helping them achieve the dream of working in recreation is a true blessing.

Reflecting on his unique journey, Mays recalls a promise he made to his mother to do something great with the values she instilled in him. “Being homeless pushed me harder to achieve my goals,” he says. “Now I know I'm doing exactly what she would have wanted me to do.”