Jerome Fulton begged his mom to stay home.
The 5-year-old knew that if his mother went out that December night in 1998, something bad would happen.
He was right.
“My mom died December 1st, 1998. And that night I told my mom not to leave, I had a very eerie feeling that I was never going to see her again, so I said, ‘Mommy, don’t leave. I want you to stay home with me and put me on a bus in the morning,'” Jerome recalls.
The next morning when little Jerome woke up, his family had gathered. Angel Wilson had been found dead in a car on a Miami street, shot 16 times.
‘I’M MY MOM’S ONLY CHILD, AND MY DAD’S ONLY CHILD’
“The news people were coming around and called, it was a spectacle,” Jerome recalls. “I remember the news interviewing me and I wasn’t sad or crying, and I said, ‘I told her not to leave, but she didn’t listen to me.’ And everybody was looking at this 5-year-old kid like, ‘Did he really just say this?’ I don’t know if I had a grasp of what was happening, but I had some level of maturity, or understanding, at that point. But you know, it was tough because, I’m my mom’s only child, and my dad’s only child.”
But Jerome did not have his father to comfort him in grief. His dad had been murdered five years earlier, on the day of his parents’ baby shower, about a month before Jerome was born.
With the death of his mom, Jerome was an orphan.
“No one has custody of me; now the families are at odds and I’m in the middle,” he recalls. He moved around a lot in the ensuing years, to South Carolina and Atlanta, living with different family members. “And it was tough. My aunt had lost her only maternal sister, and then six months after my mom died, my aunt’s husband goes to prison, so she has four kids and then me, so it was tough.”
It got tougher. Even as he was the subject of a protracted custody battle, Jerome was called to testify as a character witness in the trial of his mother’s killer in February 2005.
“I was in the sixth grade and a guy was standing in front of my house with an envelope and subpoenaed me and my auntie to court to testify in my mom’s case,” Jerome recalls. “And I am the one that ended up doing it, going to the state attorney’s office after school, writing a deposition and getting on the stand and looking at one of the men responsible for my mom’s death and telling them, telling the jury, how much my mom meant to me. And at 11 years old, that was a traumatizing experience — but also a liberating one.”
AN INTENSE FOCUS ON SCHOOL PAYS OFF
Through it all, one key lesson, instilled by determined family members, stuck with young Jerome.
That lesson, reinforced again and again throughout his turbulent early years, made the difference for a young man who has gone on to great academic success, including an undergraduate degree in accounting from the University of Florida and a master’s in accounting from the University of Southern California. After working for two of the premier global consulting firms, Fulton last month achieved his greatest success yet: admission to six of the most elite business schools in the world.
Fulton was accepted by Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, Columbia Business School, UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale School of Management. He will join Harvard’s MBA Class of 2023 in the fall.
“Life was tough,” Fulton recalls. “And my aunt did a phenomenal job of instilling an education in all of us and letting us know that This is your way out. What’s around you, this is not it — keep focusing on school.
“And I always kept that, even after I moved in with my dad’s side of the family when I was 12, and I made sure that I was accountable and responsible for my education.
“It was just a joyous occasion to get into the schools that I’d never even imagined that I would go to, coming from where I come from, and experiencing the things that I’ve experienced.”