Updated: Aug 1, 2020
Daniel Geiter was raised in a home where he had a date with Jesus almost every day of the week. Tuesday was bible study, Thursday was choir practice, Friday and Saturday was the day designated to visit local churches, and Sunday service was an ALL day event. His mother didn’t play games when it came to Daniel and his sister’s faith. As a single parent, she did everything in her power to instill in her children good Christian values so they would stay on a Godly path. Despite all of her efforts, Daniel began to rebel around the age of 12. He held resentment in his heart from never meeting his father. Plus, Daniel was tired of seeing all of his friends from school hanging out on the streets, while he was stuck in church all day.
His performance in school began to reflect his change of focus. He became the class clown, and neither his teachers nor mother knew what to do with him. Eventually, his behavior got so out of control, that he was kicked out of high school at the age of 16. This took place around the same time that Daniel was first introduced to criminal activities. He began writing bad checks and although it made him some quick money, it wasn’t long before the police caught and arrested Daniel. His initial experience in prison didn’t dissuade Daniel from his criminal tendencies. In fact, Daniel was in and out of the penitentiary five times during the 90’s, racking up 25 felony charges along the way. It wasn’t until the judge sentenced him to 18 years in prison in 1997, that Daniel finally woke up and said he needed to make a change. Daniel had a recently gotten married and had a son, so this time he had something to lose while being in jail. During his last stint in prison, all of his focus went towards preparing for his release. He signed up to participate in a program that allowed him to complete his GED and take some college courses. He excelled in the program and earned college credit while serving his time in jail. Unexpectedly, his sentence was cut short for good behavior, and he left prison for the last time in August of 1999.
Although he was excited to be free, for the first time in his life, he felt lost. His marriage had fallen apart while he was in jail, and he couldn’t go back to his old ways of making money. He decided to leverage the entrepreneurial skills that he had honed on the streets to start his own business. While working on getting off his feet, he met a woman, who he eventually married. Together they decided to open up a beauty supply store in a small town in central Illinois. They only had $1,500 to invest in the business, so on the first day they opened, more than half of the shelves in their store were empty. On their first day, they made a whopping $3.50. They continued to pray every morning for the day they would make their first $100 in sales. God answered their prayers, and after one year of being open, their store grossed over $600,000 in sales. The support they received was more than they could ever imagine. Daniel was given a chance to expand to a second store in a neighboring town, and he jumped at the opportunity. Unfortunately, his decision to open up the second store was to his detriment. The second store performed poorly. Daniel poured all of his resources into the second store to try to save it but was unsuccessful, and eventually, both businesses went under.
The fall from a million dollar business to bankruptcy was a hard one for Daniel. He decided to move to Chicago to search for better opportunities. However, his criminal background followed him and served as a significant barrier for employment. Chicago was unforgiving, and Daniel couldn’t even find a job washing dishes. Daniel was also under more pressure to make money because his ex-wife sent his 13-year-old son to Chicago to live with him, who was getting into trouble down south. Daniel knew his son was watching his every move, so he had to do something to set an example for him. Since he couldn’t get a job, Daniel made the decision to go back to school.
He went to Moraine Valley Community College to earn his associates degree. Since his family was so poor, he qualified for financial aid to support his education, and eventually found a job working as a doorman to help him pay his bills. After graduating from Moraine Valley in 2009, Daniel was accepted into Xavier College. However, tuition at Xavier was much more than he could afford, and financial aid did not cover all of his expenses. It got to the point where his lights were off in his apartment, and he was behind on rent. As a last cry for help before dropping out of school, Daniel wrote a letter that explained his dire situation and his need for support. He sent it to every administrator, ranging from his professors to the president of the college.
The only person that responded to his plea was Sister Sue, a Catholic nun at Xavier. She tapped into her resources to find Daniel the money he needed to stay in school, and secured a donor to pay his rent and light bill for several months. It didn’t take Daniel long to realize that there was something different about Sister Sue. She didn’t just believe in God, but she reflected God’s love through her actions. The love and support that she showed Daniel during that difficult time forced Daniel to reevaluate the faith that he had dismissed years before, and as time went on, he eventually accepted God back into his life.
Since Daniel no longer had to worry about how he was going to pay his bills, he focused on his performance in school, and successfully graduated from Xavier in 2011. Before he could finish celebrating his graduation, Sister Sue began to push Daniel to continue his education. She told him to set his eyes on University of Chicago to get his Masters Degree. This prestigious school seemed like a far reach for Daniel, but she insisted and advocated on his behalf for him to get in. Daniel was admitted into U of C but received a rude awakening on his first day of class when he discovered how challenging his graduate courses would be. He knew the only way he would make it through grad school was to outwork everyone else. Daniel committed himself to his studies and used the negative feedback he received from others as fuel to push harder. His hard work paid off, and he eventually earned his Masters degree in Humanities in 2012. On graduation day, Daniel already made up his mind that his education wasn’t going to stop there. He had his eyes set on becoming a president of a college one day, and the only way he could do that is if he obtained his doctorate degree. By the time he graduated from U of C, he had already been admitted into Benedictine University’s doctoral program. He was the only African American student in his class, and he felt like he was the least prepared out of all of the students there. Regardless, quitting was not an option for him, and he was determined to finish. In 2015, he graduated from Benedictine University with his doctorate degree in Education and Organizational Change. The moment he earned that degree, he knew that the mistakes from his past would no longer stand in the way of him accomplishing his vision for the future. To the world, he would no longer be known as a former felon. The world would now know him as Dr. Daniel Geiter. The only thing left for Daniel to do, was to go after his dream of opening a college.
Several years earlier, God connected Daniel with a gentleman named Elijah Ward, who wanted to open up a school in honor of his father. They reconnected while Daniel was in his doctoral program, and in 2015 they opened up Ward College. Daniel was appointed to be the first president of the school, and under his leadership, the school has had tremendous success. Daniel tailored the school’s courses and services to meet the needs of students who were formerly incarcerated and are from low-income communities. When designing the curriculum for the school, Daniel was able to use his personal experience as a model for determining what each student needed to have the best chance at success. The students at Ward looked at Daniel as more than just the president of the University. To them, he was a living example that the mistakes of someone’s past, do not have to dictate their future.
Today, Daniel also uses his story as a platform to work towards dismantling public policies that contribute to mass incarceration. He realizes that although he has been able to find success after incarceration, there are many of his brothers and sisters who have not. Daniel acknowledges that his success is only by the grace of God, and remains committed to serving his community and helping others work towards achieving their goals in life. Although his journey has not been easy, the mercy that God showed Daniel in his darkest hours is why his faith is so strong today. He believes the best is yet to come, and he can't wait to see what God has in store for him next.
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