Daivin Gilliam is a senior here at Illinois State University majoring in mass media. He transferred to ISU in the spring semester of 2018, coming from Kentucky State University and Miles College the years prior. Studying mass media, Gilliam’s dreams were to become a radio personality, possibly having his own radio station and creating his own talk show. With the obstacles that he has overcome, his dreams have changed, and his aspirations have become greater.
“Everybody kept saying that my brother got shot, so I was rushing out the shower and throwing on any clothes I could find,” he said. “I ran back to the block. It was police everywhere and yellow tape, but they already took my brother to the hospital. I got the bad news that he didn’t make it.”
Gilliam says that night still haunts him.
After his sophomore year of college, Gilliam experienced some legal troubles back in Chicago. “These troubles kind of hindered me a little bit,” he said. “I felt disappointed in myself because I was trying to change and become a better person. Also, my head was pretty much everywhere but school at that point.”
Gilliam ended up taking an entire semester off of school due to these legal issues as well as developing depression and other mental illnesses. Eventually he came back to school.
Gilliam has been in college since the summer of 2015. Since then, he said that he has lost an average of two childhood friends each school year. The pain, however, resonated at home as well.
“I was around 13 years old when my mama was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Gilliam recalls.
Gilliam was already involved in street and gang violence, but his mother’s diagnosis pushed him in deeper.
“I started becoming fascinated with guns and gang banging and just the streets in general,” he said. “I used to collect different types of guns and I got caught when I was 19 after like six, seven years of doing it from making my bed up and my mom walking in on me.”
Gilliam said that despite these negative memories, his mother has been a major influence on him.
His motivation to graduate college is also matched by a motivation to take care of his mother while he is two hours away from her.
“I work and have to stay with a job to take care of myself and my mother. My mother has been disabled since I was 14, so I work as much as I can because I have to make sure she’s OK. All the things I like and want are always put off to the side because she comes first before anything.”
His inspiration to study mass media also comes from his mother. Gilliam said that he has always been a big sports fan and has always admired Kobe Bryant. With that love for sports, he began to admire sports analyst Stephen Smith.
“My mom says that she can see me doing something like Stephen does, so that’s where my influence comes from,” Gilliam said.
Aside from educational aspirations, Gilliam also has a love for music, a passion that started at a young age. “My granddad is a famous actor and I met a lot of rappers and entertainers growing up,” he explains. “I used to sit in the studio with them while they made music. I actually sat in the studio with Snoop Dogg while he was working on music when I was about 5 years old. My goddad also was a famous rapper growing up.”
Gilliam emphasizes that his love for music really started when Kanye West first came into the music industry. West’s third album ‘Graduation’ was the first album Gilliam ever bought with his own money. “He was a big motivation for me when it came to music ... Buying that ‘Graduation’ album with my own money, I knew it was something special.”
Gilliam’s dreams evolved into him wanting to be a part of the music industry.
“I want to start my own record label. I have a lot of friends that rap and sing and produce so I want to bring them together and make something big out of it. You don’t see too many big entertainers from Chicago come back and sign these artists. You got other artist[s] from ’cross the country who come and sign these up-and-coming artist[s]. I feel like it shouldn’t be that way. We are so overshadowed by gang violence and crime in Chicago it takes away from our talent.”
Chicago’s violence has taken a great toll on the city, as well as young black men from poor neighborhoods like Gilliam. He states that he believes the violence only leads to two outcomes: death or jail.
“I wasn’t looking forward to either of them, so it motivated me to do better,” he continued. “I see the bigger picture with seeing things outside of Chicago, so I knew it was destined for me to leave before something happened to me.”
He knew that with his intelligence, wisdom and creativity that he would make it big.
Since attending ISU, Gilliam has found new outlets of positivity. He produces his own podcast at VidetteOnline.com, “Wrong Generation,” in which he discusses different aspects of music. He is now also considering pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice to help children who are consumed by street violence and have legal issues as he once did.
At ISU, he has also found new friends who are motivating him to strive for greatness. His closest friend and former resident adviser, Kendall Jordan, has been in the journey since the beginning.
“Daivin came to my floor of spring 2018,” Jordan said. “I introduced myself to him and we connected off bat. He was from out west [Chicago] and so was I. We started to hang out and hoop with each other, and at that point our relationship was deeper and not just a typical resident and RA one.”
Jordan introduced Gilliam to multiple people on campus and helped contribute to the social group he has now formed today. Gilliam now has a best friend, a girlfriend and a community here at ISU that supports him.
He also explains the many obstacles he has witnessed Gilliam overcome.
“He has overcome poverty, broken households, being a minority and coming to a [predominately white institution]. I remember he had a close friend die from his neighborhood in K-Town and he was really emotional,” Jordan said.
“His story is unique because he adapts and he’s making the best out of life. His podcast is doing numbers and he has some buzz around campus. I’m proud of the man he’s becoming. He’s had so much happen to him that he can only succeed right now. That’s my brother for life.”
Jordan said the support that he and Gilliam reciprocate to each other makes them brothers even more.
“I’m better than him in hooping of course, because he’s from Franklin Park and I’m from Homan Square. He knows what’s up.”
Gilliam’s story is far from finished and his potential is just starting to peek through. He is humbled by his past and is grateful for the opportunity to wake up every day and make a change in his life.
“It was a tough road, but you know they say you have to go through hell to get to paradise. I know I haven’t gotten to paradise just yet, but it ain’t too far away.”