Many adults and young people in Charlestown might recognize Josh Knight as the young man who taught them to swim the American Crawl or the backstroke, but behind his swimming expertise lies a story of perseverance that includes many years of home insecurity – including having to leave Charlestown this year in the midst of the pandemic with few options.
Knight, 23, has run the pool at the Charlestown YMCA for nearly three years, being the second in charge and a familiar face to anyone taking swimming lessons at the facility. While he worked there, he also lived there too. His family – who has struggled to find housing for many years – lived at the Constitution Inn in the Navy Yard for three years.
It was a wonderful commute and setup for Knight, as he worked towards, and finally got to college this year – while also working at the YMCA full-time in the aquatics area.
That came to an end though, when the pandemic forced the Inn to close.
“At first, we all lived in one room there, but then we were able to get two rooms and it was a great situation,” he said. “Then, due to COVID-19, the hotel wasn’t getting any business and they were forced to close. Once they closed the hotel, the YMCA closed not long after. The whole building shut down and we had to move out in late March. We fell back on a life of prayer and a lot of faith. We did almost everything with AirBNB. We had a small cargo van of stuff we moved around. A lot of people doing AirBNB did work with us and some let us stay month by month. It was a hard year and thanks goes to God we found a place in Dorchester.”
The family, including Knight, his two siblings and his two parents, moved a total of seven times during the pandemic. For most, that would seem like a huge obstacle, but it is only one piece of Knight’s journey – one that he said has resulted in great blessings headed into 2021.
Despite a tough draw with housing instability over the past 10 years, and interrupted education, he said he approaches the new year with nothing but gratitude. A lot of that has to do with the trajectory of his education right now – as he has matriculated to Framingham State University after a long, hard journey through high school and hopes to resume play on the school’s basketball team when COVID-19 restrictions lift.
It was a place he nearly didn’t land, and only because he couldn’t afford the books to move on past the seventh grade. After attending Zion Academy and Parkside Christian Academy in Jamaica Plain, he transferred to be home schooled at Lighthouse Christian Academy.
“It really worked out a lot better and I was able to Zoom through the grades really fast,” he said, noting that the progress stopped for a while because he couldn’t afford the books for high school. “Fortunately, in the last couple of years, I was able to pay for all of the books and went from 7th grade to 11th grade and finished up the last two years.
“It was accelerated Christian education and it teaches you to teach yourself,” he continued. “It kind of prepared me for life and all I’ve been through and the world we’re in now.”
Overcoming that obstacle led him to the position of being able to go to college, and he said he was looking at UMass-Boston and Framingham State. However, having played a lot of basketball at the Boys & Girls Clubs, he had caught the eye more than a few times of college coaches – including the assistant coach at Framingham State.
Knight, a standout guard in basketball (though the season was cancelled this year), said he started classes remotely at Framingham State, continued working in Charlestown and logged heavy subway commuting hours from their new home in Dorchester.
“A lot of my time now is spent meditating and trying to kill two birds with one stone and do multiple things at once,” he said.
That includes juggling work and school very carefully – sometimes even timing class participation with stops on the subway. This past semester, his online classes ended at 11:15 a.m., and he was to be in Charlestown by noon. That meant logging into part of his class while riding the train.
“The Orange Line gets so loud,” he said. “If there’s something I want to say, I would wait until the train stopped and then jump in and say it. It worked pretty well, actually.”
Knight said he is studying computer science, something his father was interested into and a field he found success in early in life. Knight said he is particularly interested in studying AI and how technology is integrated into everyday life. He’s now on schedule to graduate in 2024, but by taking summer classes, he believes he can finish in 2023.
It’s a testament to an incredible ability to manage time and being disciplined – which he credits to the author Tony Robbins’ time management course.
“I’m struggling with being more driven,” said Knight. “I can make a goal, but I don’t always take action on it. Really, I look now to remove the roadblocks to my goals and eliminate self-sabotage. I am very goal-oriented, but I need to try to make sure I follow through…Some advice I took was to pick an outcome and make it more important than the reasons not to do it.”
Beyond all of aspects of time management and discipline and focus, however, is faith. Knight said that has been the key to his family persevering through such a tough year of instability within the worst part of the pandemic. Overcoming it, he said, meant trusting that God would pull them through.
“Everything for us really came down to relying on faith,” he said. “God had always helped us get through tough times, and we believed he would again. We truly believed God would get us through and he did.”
Knight is continuing to work at the Charlestown YMCA, but this month was furloughed from there and transferred to another location until the local Y reopens.
The Friends of the Charlestown Navy Yard have highlighted Knight and his family recently – having known them from the local YMCA – and are inviting the community to help Knight continue his education.
“While most of us can’t imagine what it is like to have Josh’s spirit, focus and determination, perhaps we can help him out a bit during this holiday season,” said FCNY President Michael Parker. “FCNY is contributing towards Josh’s school expenses. Please consider joining us in helping Josh out. Thank you, and thanks to Josh for sharing his inspiring story with us.”
Those interested in contributing can send a check payable to: Friends of the Charlestown Navy Yard, Inc., and put “Josh” in the reference line. Donations can also be accepted online and through PayPal at www.friendscny.org/about-the-friends/membership/.