By Alexandria Hoff
CAMDEN, NJ (CBS) — In a sea of Camden signage, one smiling face stands out above the rest.
Aljelani Igwe, also called “AJ” is an 18-year-old from Camden who is set to graduate from LEAP Academy next week.
He knew his mom was proud, but didn’t know she’d be proud enough to rent a billboard at Seventh and Cooper Street.
“When he turned around he said ‘Oh my God. How did you get that up there?!’ He was totally surprised,” said his mother Ovella O’Neal, of Tuesday’s surprise presentation of the sign.
The billboard reads, “A Mother Can’t Raise a Man but I Raised a Gentleman” and it’s a message O’Neal hopes will resonate with other single moms.
“Lead by example because if I can do it you can too,” she said from her Camden home, adding that her son managed to stay out of trouble thanks to guidelines set at home. Aljelani was not allowed to have girlfriends and only had limited cell phone use.
Raising a child in Camden isn’t easy. Census Data from 2013 reports that 35 percent of adults in the city have not completed high school and less than eight percent went on to earn a bachelor’s degree.
AJ is headed towards that eight percent. In the fall he will attend Rowan University to pursue a career in Engineering.
His dreams don’t stop there.
“I know I want my own house and my mom wanted a BMW so I’m going to try and get her that too,” he said.
The billboard cost his mom $725 and will stay up for three weeks.
“It made my heart warm because good things do come from the city of Camden,” said Iris Ramirez, a mother who lives near where the billboard is displayed.
Its sign of what’s possible for both a son and mother and a symbol of hope for the city below.
“Let’s say a 10-year-old boy looks up and sees your picture up there. What do you hope he sees?” asked reporter Eyewitness News reporter Alexandria Hoff.
“A young man trying to do good with his life,” said AJ.