A Journey from the Streets to the Office

April 9, 2020

The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, said it best: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

Victor Coleman, consultant, Regional External Affairs at Toledo Edison, is a great example.

The Toledo native’s life has been a journey from the troubled streets of his youth, to a straighter highway. And on that route, he’s learned how to navigate the curves and avoid the potholes of life.

In fact, he’s become a role model for others to do the same.

Troubled Youth

“As a young man I was just angry at life in general. I blamed everyone – especially my parents – for the things I didn’t like about my life,” he said.

Victor’s rebellious nature led him to crime and multiple arrests including one while in first grade. Vandalism, under-age drinking, stealing his mother’s car and fighting were among his offenses over the years.

“I guess I enjoyed the attention I received from getting in trouble,” he said.

One constant in Victor’s life was his mother – a single parent raising five children.

“No matter what, my mom was there and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”

An Unexpected Turn

As he grew older, it wasn’t long before Victor realized the road he was traveling would only lead to a dead end.

“Even though I was an adult and had children, I was still running with a bad crowd,” Victor recalled. “I had three children to support, I was financially strapped and was sleeping on my mom’s sofa. I was seriously considering going back to the streets.”

However, his mom and children encouraged Victor to take stock in his life and become the man he was meant to be. And, Victor relied on his faith as inspiration.

“I was forced to take a look inside myself and address the things I needed to change within.”

It was also during this time that Victor began working at FirstEnergy after receiving a phone call from Toledo Edison for a meter reader opening.

“I have no idea how they received my resume, but somehow they did, and I took the job.”

Victor’s plan was to work as a meter reader for five years, then move to New York to pursue a music career – a dream he’s had since childhood.

But, after a few years, he was offered a meter reading supervisor position.

“I was so conflicted. I’d made up my mind on a career in music and I was determined to follow it. So, I told my supervisor I’d like to think about the offer,” he said.

At church the following Sunday, Victor got his answer.

“While leading a prayer the minister said he was receiving a message for someone struggling with a job decision, and the spirit said, ‘If you don’t take this job opportunity, you’ll be stuck where you are the rest of your life,'” said Victor. “I knew the message was for me, and that’s what I did.”

Becoming Dr. Coleman

Realizing that education is the key to a better future, Victor enrolled at Full Sail University for online classes in pursuit of his passion.  His love for music led him to study entertainment business for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

After receiving his master’s degree, Victor planned to pursue a doctorate in business administration; however, at the last minute, he changed direction.

The day before classes began, he switched to a Ph.D.

Receiving his Doctor of Philosophy in Business Management with a specialization in Leadership wasn’t an easy road.

“I struggled with reading and writing as a child, and one of my first classes was ‘How to Write Scholarly.’ Plus, our online classes would occasionally meet in person. There were times when I felt out of place. Everyone talked differently and they were all dressed differently. After one of these meetings, I was so discouraged that I wasn’t sure if I would continue with my Ph.D.”

Later that evening, he was talking to his son on the phone.  Before hanging up, his son said, “Talk to you later future Dr. Coleman!”

“Hearing my son say that did it for me. It was then I realized that I wasn’t just a father, but a mentor as well.”

Victor received his Ph.D. in February 2019.

With Victor (c.) is family, l.-r.: Victor J. Coleman III, (son); Crystal Rowlett, (mother); Shantiel Jones, (wife); and Va’Shon Coleman, (son) after Victor receives his Ph.D.

Things also were going well for Victor at FirstEnergy. His love for serving the community convinced him to apply for a consultant position in External Affairs. He initially took a job in the Mansfield, Ohio, area, but was able to transfer to his hometown of Toledo in December 2018.

Telling His Story

Victor was moved to share his personal journey with others. He told his story on his Facebook page – and it went viral.

“I’ve heard from people all over the country and many encouraged me to help others.”

Now, Victor is a motivational speaker, mentor and advocate – especially for young men. In 2010, he created VJ Coleman Flight School, a program that involves student outreach, retreats and creative outlets to help at-risk youth reach their potential.

“I love giving back to the community and helping our youth find their potential and know there’s a better future for them. I especially applaud FirstEnergy and our Diversity and Inclusion efforts that will allow everyone to have great opportunities,” he said.

Victor also is working on a book, Becoming Dr. Coleman, which is scheduled for release in September of this year.

Victor’s advice to others?

“Get out of your own way! Don’t block your opportunities to do better. I believe that uncertain times such as this pandemic are the opportunity to birth something new. Grab hold of your faith, embrace the uncertainty and prepare for what you want ​life to look like when things return to normal.”

Victor speaking to a group of high school students.​