“Shooting for the stars” is more than just a figure of speech for AJ Wilson from Wesleyan University, and the founder of Dream Chasers, a non profit organization based in Atlanta dedicated to helping students realize their full potential. Predicated on the belief that dreams are more than wishful thinking, Wilson and his team turn those visions into a fuel for success, drive and passion in life.
Growing up in Kennesaw, GA, Wilson was surrounded by history and politics, which drove him to studying law and inspired him to help people. This desire was only deepened when Wilson tore his meniscus and had to retire from playing football at Wesleyan University in his first year. “It was the worst/best thing that has ever happened to me,” Wilson said. “All these new opportunities opened up to me, and I wanted to fully take advantage of the unique perspective Wesleyan had.”
As he continued college with a concentration on government and political science, Wilson started to notice patterns of students doubting the significance of their dreams. “Give the power back to the students. Everyone is constantly telling students what they should do and what they can accomplish, that they lose sight of what they want to be,” Wilson said, the conviction in his voice more telling than the words themselves.
“Going after dreams can be scary, but you have to trust in yourself and the lessons you have learned. Think about people first. Work for what you want, but being nice gets you further than being the smartest person in the room.”
It is with this thought that the former football star started to create a forum—an opportunity for students to vocalize their dreams, to take control of them and set them on their journeys. “We wanted Dream Chasers to be that opportunity,” said Wilson. However, Wilson was still unsure what Dream Chasers would look like and how to get it off the ground.
His idea of such a forum for dreamers solidified in his sophomore year as he worked as an intern at Gideon’s Promise, a foundation that trains public defenders before law school, and started discussing with fellow interns about their plans after graduation. “Everyone had a dream, they just couldn’t see its reality,” Wilson said. Educational institutes had stomped out the dreamers, given them linear perspectives and Plexiglas windows to look out of but never to open.
So, Wilson spent that summer and the better part of the next two years working, saving every penny to make Dream Chasers a premier program to showcase student community, leadership and possibility. Dream Chasers promotes peer mentorship in a myriad of ways ranging from one-on-one student consulting to college admissions feedback, to community service projects to S.H.I.P (School Help Is Possible), an app that finds scholarships for colleges based on the student’s academic and extracurricular interests.
Wilson’s personal beliefs in education shine through in the model of his organization. “Education is for everyone. People are put in boxes based on where they come from and what they have been through,” Wilson commented on the current divisive and limiting education system, which is also what Dream Chasers is seeking to rectify. There is no such thing as one size fits all in education and Wilson’s organization hopes to turn education into opportunity by tailoring the program to students’ creativity and dream.
However, that is not to say dreams are without their challenges. “Going after dreams can be scary, but you have to trust in yourself and the lessons you have learned. Think about people first. Work for what you want, but being nice gets you further than being the smartest person in the room.” Wilson has faced certain setbacks with his endeavor, but never allowed them to discourage him from striving for his belief. In contrast, he learned his life lessons and applied them into bettering his organization. In the future, Wilson plans to expand Dream Chaser’s campus chapters to include larger communities of dreamers. As an honest and humble person, he attributes his success today to his family and team for their unconditional support. “It is scary trying to expand and grow as a company, we do not want to lose sight of what we set out to do,” Wilson said.
Dreams can change you. The original dream chaser says his world and his perception has undoubtedly been changed since the foundation of this Dream Chaser. “We are told very young that anything is possible, and it sounds good, but now I believe in it. I believe in the power of positivity and trust and belief. It is inspiring, being on the receiving end, being able to give back to communities, to encourage each other that dreams are not just fantasy roadmaps waiting to be used, but that you can take each day and build to your dreams.”
As for Wilson, his passion and dedication to weaving new dreams has put him on his own dream path. Wilson has decided to postpone law school for a year or two to fully devote himself to his organization. For him, “right now, I am having too much fun helping people chase their dreams.”
Want to read about another students dream? Check Out Barret Cole’s Story