Initially my plan was to become a lawyer due to the fact that I had a lot of family members who were involved in the criminal justice system. I wanted to become a lawyer to learn how to negotiate contracts because I am an artist. That all changed my junior year in college when I did an internship with Read Lead, a CDF Freedom School at Cal State Dominguez Hills in Carson, California. That summer I was introduced to a powerful program that allowed students of color (in elementary, middle, high school, and college) to ground themselves in a historic movement for educational equity. A program that allowed students to center themselves in a culturally relevant experience of the past that transcended into the struggle of social and restorative justice today. That summer internship put me on the educational trajectory to pursue my Masters in Minority and Urban Education at the University of Maryland.
Transitioning from the West coast was not as easy for me because of the cultural, political, and institutional factors that I would encounter. The Black students on campus range from wealthy to poor (like me), woke to unaware, and professional (Greek) to unbothered (athletes). The main thing I noticed was that no matter the category, I was looked at differently all the time. More times than none I find that the white and Black students often give me the same looks (not including Trump supporters of course). Yet being able to adjust has brought me thus far so I would like to think that I’m doing something right. There is a feeling that is extremely difficult to describe when walking around on a campus that was built by enslaved ancestors, and knowing that you received a full-ride because they paid it forward for me generations before I was even conceived. It does not make me feel inadequate, but rather fuels the fire to succeed, and do more for the Black population on campus than just be counted as a drop in the diversity bucket. I can understand how someone without an Africana frame of mind could feel isolated, unwanted, and doubtful at a PWI, but I can also see how important my role is as a Black graduate student is for that same reason.
Finding my purpose at a PWI will allow me to include more proactive interventions in the non-profit that I establish, and allow more students of color to successfully navigate the system from k-PhD. Students need to see teachers like them in higher education for them to believe it is possible to get there, and if they can’t then students of color at least need the resources to help bridge that gap between theory and practice. I was the only Black man in the McNair Scholars program in undergrad, and I am the first man to ever to have become the graduate coordinator of America Reads at UMD regardless of race. It’s important to recognize the subtle neutral changes in the same way that you perceive the blatant fear, prejudice or hate that others may feel for you. It’s also just as important for me to recall a time in undergrad when I had all Black male professors for a semester, because this semester as a grad student, I have all Black professors that are women. The takeaway for me is no matter what the situation seems to be there will always be lessons to be learned and valuable jewels to be gained.