As I read through emails, tweets, blogs, and Facebook statuses this morning, I came across one from @HalonaBlack that really made me stop and evaluate some things. Her post, which you better should read, discusses how some first-generation college students arrive on campus with the short-sighted goal of choosing a major that will help them earn money, in the shortest amount of time possible. Well, as soon as I retweeted it my college roommate posted the following comment on my page:
Roomie: “I can relate to this on so many levels. My Dad (even though he didn’t raise me he thought he had a voice in this) basically told me no “BS” majors (e.g. Communications,journalism, etc). I needed a “real” major so right off I felt limited in my choices. And even going to law school, it shocked me how prepared some of the well to do students were. They had outlines, knew the inside tricks, etc. Always vowed my kid would never start that far behind and would have the ability to pursue whatever she wanted.”
Whew! That hit so close to home it stopped me in my tracks. Now when I chose which college I would attend, no one in my family weighed in on majors, etc. Honestly, the only advice/words of wisdom I received came from my grandfather as he was driving me home from work one day (as we passed the University of Notre Dame): “Don’t you let anyone tell you or make you feel like you don’t belong there, because you do. You have as much right to be there as they do.” Anyone who knows anything about Notre Dame, or any predominantly White college/university, can guess to whom he referred; it’s not rocket science. But that was the way we were raised: We were never taught that we were inferior to anyone. We are all as comfortable, if not more so, in a room where we are the only minority versus being in a room where we are in the majority. (Oh lord I get so sidetracked!) BTW: That’s not me in the pic. It’s Katie Odette Washington, Notre Dame’s first Black Valedictorian.
So the conversation via Facebook continued:
Me: I just finished reading The PACT, about the 3 Black guys from Newark who all went on to college and became doctors. One of them said the exact same thing: The other students were well ahead of him when they started because their parents had professional careers too. I am grateful that I ‘made it’ so to speak because no one in my family had even attended college before me.
Roomie: Exactly, I’m grateful too. Had a single mom that got pregnant in high school. Part of the reason I don’t let “the less advantaged” get away with excuses. And on some level, we know that will be our challenge with Gemma – we want her the be on a level playing field, but we don’t want to make it too easy for her either. Both our families just marvel at the fact that she has a passport.
Me: We (including myself) have a lot of work to do. My oldest doesn’t understand why he has to still do work & read during the summer. I keep telling him that I know what I’m doing….Were it not for Charles Martin & Upward Bound I would likely still be stuck in South Bend, doing nothing. Knowing nothing.
My natural reaction was to actually try to imagine where I would be were it not for supportive people and the Upward Bound program. My mind can’t even go there because I prefer to believe that everything, both good and bad, happens for a reason. Even my decision to move to the South, when I was well aware of it’s history (not to say that the North did not have issues too). Despite the fact that some people obviously still believe that we must carry ourselves as inferior individuals, avoid asking ‘The Man’ questions, or demanding respect, I still believe that everything I have experienced and learned here was for a reason. When those voices begin to question decisions I’ve made, something or someone manages to reach me at the right time, encourages me to keep going, continue asking the questions that make people uncomfortable. I think my grandmother would probably say, ‘Keep raisin’ hell, baby. That’s the only way things will change.’
So, where would you be if no one pushed you to excel, dream big, and be your own person?