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Proud single mom rents out billboard to honor her 'gentleman' son before he graduates from high school in one of country's most crime-ridden neighborhoods

Single mom rents out billboard to honor her 'gentleman' son before his high school

  • Mother of six Ovella O' Neal surprised son Aljelani 'AJ' Igwe with the sign
  • She also rented ice cream and cupcake trucks for a party right underneath
  • AJ will graduate next week from LEAP Academy in Camden, New Jersey and will attend Rowan University in the fall 
  • O' Neal said she set strict rules to keep AJ on the right path, banning girlfriends, limiting cell phone use and having family dinners every night
  • AJ said he hopes younger children will look at the banner and see a 'young man trying to do good with his life'  

One New Jersey single mother considered skywriting a message to show how proud she was of her son, who is set to graduate from high school next week. 

Then Ovella O' Neal, a mother of six, thought of a better idea. She would write that message on a billboard near his school instead.

With a senior portrait of her 18-year-old son Aljelani 'AJ' Igwe attached, the rented billboard read 'A mother can't raise a man, but I raised a gentleman. We have the total package'. 

O' Neal, 45, surprised AJ, who will graduate from LEAP Academy, after school on Tuesday. 

Single mother Ovella O' Neal rented a billboard for $725 to show her son Aljelani 'AJ' Igwe how proud she was of him as he prepares to graduate from LEAP Academy in Camden, New Jersey next week 

Single mother Ovella O' Neal rented a billboard for $725 to show her son Aljelani 'AJ' Igwe how proud she was of him as he prepares to graduate from LEAP Academy in Camden, New Jersey next week 

'When he turned around he said "Oh my God. How did you get that up there?" He was totally surprised,' the proud mother told CBS Philly.  

And that's not all AJ got. 

O'Neal, who paid $725 for the loving message, also rented an ice cream truck and cupcake truck for AJ to enjoy with friends and family members right there underneath the billboard.

Camden had the highest crime rate in the country in 2012, but O' Neal set strict rules to make sure her son stayed out of trouble and on the right path. 

She moved her family into Baldwin Run's, a safer neighborhood in Camden, eight years ago, and has the family eat dinner together every night. 

AJ was not allowed to have girlfriends and only had limited cell phone use. 

After school he volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club of Camden and helped younger kids with their homework before going to his basketball practice. 

O' Neal's rules worked. AJ is on his way to being part of the eight percent of Camden residents who have a bachelor's degree. 

O'Neal set strict rules for AJ to make sure her son stayed out of trouble in a city that once had the highest crime rate in the country. AJ was not allowed to have girlfriends and had limited use of a cell phone 

O'Neal set strict rules for AJ to make sure her son stayed out of trouble in a city that once had the highest crime rate in the country. AJ was not allowed to have girlfriends and had limited use of a cell phone 

O' Neal set out to be a prime example for her children and she hopes the billboard will inspire other single mother as well, telling them to 'lead by example because if I can do it, you can too' 

O' Neal set out to be a prime example for her children and she hopes the billboard will inspire other single mother as well, telling them to 'lead by example because if I can do it, you can too' 

He will attend Rowan University in the fall and plans to major in either engineering or science. 

And AJ has big plans for his future, saying he hopes to buy a house and his mom the BMW she's always wanted.  

O'Neal, who works at Samaritan Hospice, said she had a rough but disciplined childhood and set out to be a prime example for her children. 

'When they leave from under our nose, they should represent you and their upbringing,' she told The Philadelphia Inquirer

But O'Neal also hopes the billboard will also inspire single mothers, telling them to 'lead by example because if I can do it, you can too.' 

AJ's father Sal, who also lives in Camden, has been a part of his son's life but did not attend the surprise. 

The billboard will stay up for three weeks, and AJ hopes it will inspire kids in the neighborhood. 

One reporter asked him what he hopes a 10-year-old boy would see, looking up at his face smiling from the sign. 

'A young man,' AJ replies, 'trying to do good with his life.'  

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Comment by Daniel Jorge on June 29, 2015 at 12:19am
Awesome totally awesome I love this god bless her for her home schooling and god bless him on his future
Comment by Baku on June 29, 2015 at 12:02am

good for you AJ, congratulations Mom, great job. Igwe means "King" in Igbo btw and he certainly fits the name. Onward young Kiing.

Comment by DaRadiant1 on June 26, 2015 at 6:20pm

Now that is A WONDERFUL BLESSING!!

Comment by Winston on June 25, 2015 at 11:50pm
Congratulations
Comment by Sando Warrior on June 25, 2015 at 12:42pm

What a great and uplifting story. AJ you have a great and caring mother and the Lord will bless your family. When you give children encouragement you will see great results. I just wish we could see more positive stories like this one.

Comment by Wayne Daniels on June 25, 2015 at 11:26am

Son keep that bright torch burning congrats!

Comment by Wendy Chambers on June 25, 2015 at 9:24am
Well done
Comment by Sun Johnson on June 24, 2015 at 9:21am

Congratulation to AJ & his mother!! BLESSINGS!!!

Comment by Tashoy Barrett on June 24, 2015 at 6:46am
Beautiful story. Congrats to both AJ and his mom...she's a strong woman
Comment by shaniqua on June 24, 2015 at 3:18am
Congratulations AJ

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