I wasn’t a typical high school student. Motivation was hard to maintain when much of my environment negatively affected me. So many obstacles and circumstances stood (and still stand) in the path of success for young Black men like me: drugs, gangs, funding cuts, weak curriculum, unmotivated teachers, the list never ends. These basic necessities turn into privileges for the few that can access them. I joined OneGoal with hopes of improving my academics and more importantly, finding the support I needed to overcome my obstacles and be successful. When high school graduation arrived, my cohort and I ambitiously looked forward to new college adventures. The path to success was clear: work hard for four years and I’d walk across a graduation stage with a college degree in computer science.
However, my first year of college was filled with disappointment as I struggled through my courses, which were notorious for causing mental breakdowns as students scrambled to memorize and apply massive amounts of information and theorems. Early mornings, late nights, and study groups could not help me retain what I needed to learn. By the end of my freshman year, I was depressed, broke and ready to drop out.
I started sophomore year feeling like a defeated man. Gradually I found myself spending less and less time in the classroom as I tried to keep up with the hours I had to work to support myself. By the end of fall semester I had an outstanding balance but had failed to earn a single new credit. As my friends started their spring semester, I gave up being a student and went back to work. Now having officially fallen off my planned path to college graduation, I lost faith in my worth and potential. Still, my OneGoal program director never left me or let me convince myself that I was a failure. Mr. Stricker’s support and books, specifically “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander and “The Miseducation of the Negro” by Carter Godwin Woodson, gave me freedom from my misery and reignited my passion for learning. I came to more deeply understand how close I was to becoming another failed statistic and that, although it was a reflection of a failed American system, it was on me to prevent that from happening. This provided me with a goal to strive towards that went further than simply graduating from college. I now feel a civic call to help reshape education spaces so that more resources can be allocated to mental health and the psychological development of communities. Really, I want to work with students who grew up like me and help them see that they’re not crazy for feeling like the world is stacked against them. I want to help them see that they hold the power to overcome whatever is in their way of success. So, I’m going back to school this fall. One of the leadership principles I learned in OneGoal is resilience, and teaching myself to not view myself as a failure for needing more than four years to graduate college is the best example of it that I can imagine. I might not graduate with the rest of my cohort, yet I refuse to recognize us as anything less of a family. To be persistent and resilient in this struggle toward graduation no longer means being tenacious for four straight years. Sometimes it means being knocked off the pathway to success and having the power and courage to get back on or build your own new path.