The low point?

That's easy.

There are any number of difficult times to choose from, sure. When bills were left unpaid for months. When utilities were turned off. For a few years, Jayson Tatum would sleep in the same bed as his mother, Brandy Cole. For a time, they didn't have any furniture at all.

But that stuff was just details—the kind of challenges and struggles you'd expect when you're the only child of a single mom who had you at age 19. And Cole shielded her son from most of it. She was determined that—no matter what the statistics showed about teenage parents—she would become a success and he would learn from that. So she didn't let him worry about the everyday struggles during those times.

Her goal was always to show him that they were moving toward a good life.

But one day, when Tatum was in fifth grade, there was no shielding him from reality.

Cole had moved out of her own mother's house when Tatum was six months old because she wanted a life for the two of them. She bought a tiny two-bedroom, 900-square-foot house in St. Louis' diverse University City. There was a postage-stamp backyard and a chain-link fence and, most importantly, a roof over their heads.

On that day, the house had one more feature.

Cole picked her son up from school, and when they got home, Tatum saw a pink piece of paper taped to the front door. A notice of foreclosure.

"And she started crying," remembers Tatum. "I didn't know what to do. I just felt helpless. I wanted to help so bad. But I was just 11 years old."

Tatum's mother went inside the home, feeling she'd failed her son. For an hour, maybe two, the mother and her son swam in their sorrows.