JOINT BASE ANACOSTIA-BOLLING, Washington –
Long past his bedtime, a young boy lost in his own world plays on his computer. He didn’t have much and lived in a low-income neighborhood in Kansas City, but was happy with what he did have. There is a knock on the door. His three older siblings walk into the room, their heads down and quiet.
“Mom died,” said the oldest sister. The child looks up from the computer not fully understanding until everyone in the room starts to cry. His mother is never coming home.
Jaimon Graves was only 12 years-old when he experienced death for the first time.
“I felt that it was real, but I did not understand at the time,” said now Senior Airman Jaimon Graves Cater, Department of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office executive assistant. “My sister and everyone else kept saying she wasn’t coming back. It was devastating.”
The three older siblings went to live on their own while Graves and his twin brother were adopted by their aunt, who dropped them off at their grandmother’s home and left them there, only returning to bring supplies sparingly.
“When you live your life trying to understand love, you think it comes in all forms and you accept negative habits as well,” he said. “Over time, we realized our aunt never showed interest in taking care of us.”
Eventually, their grandmother took custody of the twins, and they thought that they finally found a good home. However due to religious beliefs of Grave’s grandmother, they were encouraged to not focus on school but instead their home life and spirituality.
“We were taught to forget about school and to focus on what was going on at home because that was more important,” he said.
Realizing that living with their grandmother was not an ideal fit, Graves began bouncing around different homes, staying with his older brother for a time before moving in with fellow students from his high school. Even though he had places to stay, Graves didn’t find somewhere that felt like home. His twin brother moved out too, and ended up living with his girlfriend and her family.
While his personal life certainly was not ideal, he believed he needed to turn to somewhere else to distract himself from the struggles at home. Graves began to act out in school, which caught the attention of his advisory teacher, Christy Cater.
“When I went to her class, I felt this pain out,” he said. “Normally I could be on autopilot, but with her class I had to think ‘what’s next’. She would try to get in my business when I just wanted to listen to music and do my own thing.”
While other teachers may have dismissed this as bad behavior, Cater thought it was more than just that.
“He would sit in the back of the classroom and have his music on,” Cater said. “He would lay on the desk and in his chair. I would have to sit next to him and fill out questions for him. I wanted to go the extra mile to show that I did care about him. When he pushed people’s buttons, I knew as a student that was his way of getting attention.”
With the attention that Cater was giving him, Graves started spending extra time after school with her, whether it be working on his grades or learning how to make pottery.
Cater started digging and found out Graves was having a tough time at home. She brought food when he was not able to have a lunch of his own and stayed after class to help him with his grades. Graves slowly began opening up to her, seeing that there was someone in the world that truly cared about him.
“I liked spending time with someone who showed they actually cared,” he said.
While Graves dreamed for a better home life, Cater set something in motion that would change her student’s life forever. One day, Graves was called to the principal’s office where he got the offer of a lifetime, the chance to move in with his advisory teacher.
“I just started crying, I couldn’t believe what was happening,” he said. “I chose Mrs. Cater. I never said yes so quick in my life.”
Five years after his mother passed away, Graves finally found a family. He had a room to himself. He had two new younger sisters, pets, and a father for the first time in his life. Jaimon took the surname Graves Cater.
Before, Graves Cater struggled to keep his grades at a passing level. Afterwards, he ended up graduating with A’s and B’s. Before, he never had time for other school activities. After, Graves Carter joined his high school’s JROTC program.
“Watching him go from the kid in the back of the room to doing Honor Guard and being proud of his uniform,” Cater said. “I am so proud of him, I do not have words to describe.”
With a family that loves and supports him, Graves Cater finally could focus on making a better life for himself after high school. He began looking into furthering his education and careers. After weighing his options, Graves Cater enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.
“My first year in the Air Force was rough,” said Graves Cater. “But the roughest part was learning to be an adult. It was tough leaving my new family and going to a new location.”
While he was away from his new family after being in their lives for only a few years, they were still always there for him. Even while he is in Washington D.C. and they are back in Kansas City, his parents still look out for him.
“I asked my parents about buying a car, taxes, everything,” Graves Cater said. “They always provide advice and I am thankful for them. I trust them that they have my best interests at heart.”
Growing up, Graves Cater had always wanted to make a better life for himself than what he was dealt. Once he met his advisory teacher, he became motivated to work harder and fight for that life, putting in long hours improving himself. Now Graves Cater has a family that supports him, a full time job with benefits and is furthering his education in hopes of being a lawyer one day. Ever since his family found him and adopted him, he has been able to live that life he has dreamed of.