In May 2015, I reached one of my life goals: I earned a B.A. in Economics from Howard University. However, like many young black men in Oakland, I have faced great adversity. I grew up without a consistent father and lost my mother to drug addiction. When I walked the stage to receive my diploma, I couldn’t help but reminisce on all of my black, Latino, and Asian brothers who were never able to obtain a degree. By virtue of being racial minorities, there are social and institutional systems working against us and to “make it”, we have to be exceptional.
My adolescent years were difficult, and I was often living with other family members. It was confusing, being evicted and struggling through poverty. I felt life was unfair. I was tired of losing friends, going to different schools and not knowing where I was going to be next. But no matter what I went through, the influence my NaNa had on me, the admiration and respect I had for Aunt Carolyn and my cousins who provided for me, and the love I had for my mother and siblings helped develop a desire to challenge myself and fulfill my potential.
I enrolled in College Track the summer before ninth grade. They provided tutoring, counseling, exposure to college, and help with the college application process, but what most appealed to me at fourteen was the possibility of exploring and experiencing new things. As a result, I created a strong bond with my College Track family. Together, we took full advantage of the opportunities that came our way from backpacking trips, traveling abroad, going on college visits, and community service. I was extremely active. Growing up in Oakland and moving around, I never had a chance to do anything like this.
In the fall of 2010, I enrolled on Howard’s campus. I played football, and I was doing well in school. But issues from my upbringing surfaced made it difficult to acclimate in college. Midway through, my older brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia. It was extremely difficult to cope with because I love my brother. I found myself lost, unable to perform academically, and lacking the motivation to go on with school.
I stopped playing football and took time off of school. At that point, I realized that earning a degree wasn’t going to help me get through my personal issues. I needed help emotionally. I needed counseling, and so I did that.
Fortunately for me, I was supported by College Track, scholarship advisors, family, and friends when I was ready to get back on track. I received regular counseling and resurrected my motivation and purpose for my college education.
As a result, I reinvented myself, joining new activities on campus. I got involved with a mentoring program called C.H.I.L.L., College Has Its Life Lessons, where I tutored Upward Bound students every Saturday in Washington, DC. Eventually, I became president of the organization and helped my students gain scholarships.
My experience mentoring troubled D.C. youth taught me the value of giving back. They reminded me of my community, and having participated in College Track, I understood that having role models that look like you and understand you can be life changing. As I look ahead, I will continue to give back to my community and act as a living example of what is possible for young men of color.