Darold “DJ” Kelly Jr.’s life was turned upside down when he was expelled from college for crimes he did not commit. Since reclaiming his innocence, Kelly has been focused on building an association to serve Black cybersecurity professionals.
Born in Washington, D.C., Kelly was raised in Prince George’s County, Maryland. During his tenure at Howard University (HU) where he was studying political science, Kelly was “accused of violence” as he describes it, and he was ultimately expelled from the prominent HBCU in 2016. Kelly was three months shy of graduating from HU when he was forced to halt his educational journey, HBCU Buzz reported.
“My story isn’t necessarily popular, that’s just what it is, and it was during a really bad time to get accused of violence.” Kelly told AfroTech in a video interview. “But I was accused of violent acts I never committed.”
After being convicted, Kelly appealed his case and all of the charges were ultimately vacated in 2019. While he got his innocence back, Kelly lost years of his life and missed out on more than 30 job offers, he said.
“Eventually it did catch up, and it took three years, but the courts acknowledged that they did mess up,” he said.
After this years-long fiasco and despite the turmoil, Kelly decided to reapply to HU and after being re-admitted, he earned a bachelor’s degree in December 2019. While Kelly’s degree at HU was put on hold, he decided to venture into a new career path. Kelly has been studying computer engineering at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) since 2018. When he was readmitted to HU, he was attending both of the universities full-time for a semester, all while thinking about his next move.
“I started getting interested in coding and I was self-teaching at first during my senior year at Howard,” Kelly said, “but by the time I got expelled and I was forced to transfer, I thought, I might as well change my major.”
When Kelly transferred to UDC, he said all of his credits didn’t transfer over from HU, so he seen this as an opportunity to try something new. Kelly now holds dual bachelor’s degrees in political science and government and computer engineering from UDC.