MILWAUKEE — Troy has had his fair share of struggles in life. Because of that, he requested that his last name be withheld from this story.  

He grew up low-income and knows what it’s like to be an at-risk youth. That’s why he wanted to become a teacher. Specifically, he wanted to teach in one of Milwaukee’s impoverished, minority zip codes.  

He achieved that goal and has been teaching art at Milwaukee College Prep for 14 years.

“If you come from what I come from, this is like being President of the United States for me,” he said. “I have no aspirations beyond what I’m doing right now because this is a dream job for me.”

(Spectrum News 1/Megan Carpenter)

The 45-year-old discovered his love and natural talent for art when he was young. He never thought he’d be a teacher.  

“Art was my saving grace [growing] up, and it just came natural to me,” Troy said. “I feel blessed that I’ve had people motivating me to use my talents throughout my life.”

Milwaukee College Prep is in Milwaukee’s 53205 zip code. It is predominantly Black and low-income.  

“I heard there were some challenging zip codes that a lot of people said ‘I wouldn’t want to teach in,’” he said. “I thought, what better way to really know if I have what it takes than to go into these environments and get results?”

It took Troy roughly a decade to complete college. He needed extra classes in core subjects just to get into a community college.  

He spent three years at Waukesha County Technical College, then transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Waukesha campus. He graduated with honors from the Peck School at UW-Milwaukee with his art teaching degree. 

(Courtesy of Troy)

As a first-generation college student, he didn’t have anyone to guide him through the process of attending college and taking out student loans.

“Both of my parents had an eighth-grade education,” he said. “I was hyper focused and in survival mode. I mean, we’re talking coasting into the parking lot on gas fumes.”

While he attended college full time, he also worked full time at a second-shift factory job. He was raising a family with his wife, Christy. 

Troy said he’s done everything from scrapping metal to boxing to working as a security guard to pay for college and support his children. The latter is the side job he still has today.  

“I learned how to have a side hustle,” he said. “My generation had to learn how to do that.”

Despite that, and despite receiving financial assistance, including a Pell Grant, Troy still had to take out federal loans for his last two years of college.

“This whole time, I didn’t realize there was interest on these loans,” he said. “It started out around $15,000 to $20,000 but ended up with the interest being over $50,000.” he said. “They took away my tax returns to pay it because I was never in a position to pay it back.”

(Spectrum News 1/Megan Carpenter)

After seven years, his loan amount is now back down to $20,000. He has never been able to own a home.

“I’m going check to check like a lot of people and that’s with a good job and a pretty good income,” he said. “We live a pretty modest life.”

President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan is still in limbo, pending a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court. Troy calls it a would-be game changer for him, if it were to get the green light.

“I’ve been working since I was 14 and when I got that email saying I could get $20,000 in debt forgiveness, that would’ve cleared me,” he said. “I was like, wow, maybe I’ll be able to finally get a house.”

(Spectrum News 1/Megan Carpenter)

He and his wife live in an apartment with their two younger children. Troy is a typical dad. He comes home from work, makes dinner and helps with homework.

He said he hopes his story is an eye-opener for those who question Biden’s loan forgiveness initiative.

“I put all my energy into my family and working for something but, unfortunately, this story is not just mine,” he said. “A lot of people have this story about survival, meeting that goal and getting their education and people need to hear these stories.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments Tuesday on two lawsuits challenging President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan.