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An Improbable Journey from Compton to Oxford

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Author: A Dream Too Big (Nelson Books, 2019)

BA Economics, Texas Christian University

Rhodes Scholar, MA, Latin American Studies, Oxford

Former NCAA Division I football player at Texas Christian University

Married to Paola

Daughter Mia

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Caylin, his mother and two siblings first lived in a middle-class Los Angeles neighborhood. When his mother had to flee from his abusive father who would eventually end up in prison for murdering his future girlfriend, Caylin’s world hit rock bottom. Caylin explains, “We settled in at my grandma’s house on the border of Compton and Carson. Though it was already packed with a collection of aunts, uncles, and cousins, my mom felt that having us around family would be the safest option away from dad. We set up a King-size bed and we all slept in the bed together.” They would live in poverty for years. Even so, his mother went on to earn her law degree. She instilled a love for God and education in her children. “She was determined every day that we focus not on where we were but where were meant to go. She told us, ‘We may live in the hood, but that doesn’t mean that the hood has to live in us,’” recalls Caylin. She also taught them that if they gave their best to God, that He would give it back to them. He relied on his faith even as a young child. He shares, “I don’t remember a time when my mother’s faith wasn’t my own. Maybe it was because of my dangerous environment but I relied on God from a young age. I found a comic book in a K-Mart parking lot. It was the only comic book I had, and it was about Jesus. I read it countless times and trusted God to protect me and my family.” Caylin would never starve for his God’s or his mother’s love but he would deal with hunger pains from their lack of food. When his mother didn’t have the money to feed him, he would do pushups to help relieve his stomach pains. Sometimes he would do them until he almost passed out.

Regardless of everything going on around him, Caylin refused to give up hope. His elementary school was having a spelling bee and he would study the words for hours in an attempt to win. Caylin explains, “I somehow convinced myself that after the school saw my performance in the spelling bee, they would move me up to a magnet program.” He won second place and school officials took notice and eventually, moved him into the magnet program. At only 11-years-old, Caylin would walk through gang-infested territory to catch the 6:00 am bus to the new school district.  He was alone and frightened. His grades began to go down because he wouldn’t take his backpack to school each day. Caylin explains, “I saw my backpack as an inconvenience because it would weigh me down if I needed to run or to fight… Finally, my English and history teacher, a kindly older woman named Mrs. Walters sat me down and told it to me plain… ‘You’re not a gang member. I see great things in you, and I see a great student in you. But it will require you to bring your backpack to school every day.’” This changed Caylin’s perspective and his grades. After that, Caylin would be an honor roll student. To have someone outside of his family see great things in him gave Caylin even more hope that better things were to come. As he grew he would go on to Verbum Dei prep school, where more opportunities presented themselves.

Caylin’s mom was hesitant to let her son play football because of the danger. She preferred that he focus only on education. However, they both knew it could mean an open door for better things and a brighter future for Caylin. He explains, “Football, like so many things in life, comes down to a basic risk-versus-reward equation. In neighborhoods like mine, that equation is a lot different from how it is in other places.” He began to play on a league and later played in high school and college until injuries prohibited him. Caylin applied to 45 colleges and was accepted into 36. He first played for Marist College but transferred to play at Texas Christian University. He finished his football career at TCU knowing that both of his parents had watched him play NCAA Division I football—his dad watching from a penitentiary and his mom from the stands. He relied on scholarships to cover tuition and one of those provided a summer Fulbright scholarship at the University of Bristol and a public policy fellowship at Princeton. Eventually, Caylin would apply to be a Rhodes Scholar. Caylin was named a Rhodes Scholar in 2017 just before graduating from TCU with a degree in Economics. As a Rhodes Scholar (Only 32 students are accepted each year), he received an all-expenses-paid graduate degree education from Jesus College, University of Oxford.

Caylin just finished his master’s from Oxford and in the Fall he is pursuing his doctorate and he aspires to be a professor in the field of urban sociology.

It has always been Caylin’s dream to help others. While attending college and playing football at TCU Caylin co-founded the student organization TCU SPARK (Strong Players Are Reaching Kids Simple), where he and his fellow football players would inspire youth. “The idea I struck upon was for student-athletes to go out into the community and breathe life into dying situations… We would train young student-athletes to be sparks themselves, to speak publicly and be leaders in their communities. One spark could lead to another, and that’s how we would build a fire.”

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Caylin Moore
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