#MyBlackHistory: My Parents Decided to Go Back to College 30 Years Later. Here's How My Story Inspired Them.

Jan 31, 2017 12:00:00 AM


To commemorate Black History Month, Education Post is featuring stories from parents, students and educators that connect past to present in the continued fight for better schools for Black communities using #MyBlackHistory.

Click Below to Watch My Story

  https://www.facebook.com/BetterConversationBetterEducation/videos/571262229739143/   Recently, the story of my parents, Renate and Charles Cole, went viral after I tweeted on social media: “My parents went back to college together and they graduated today. Together #salute.” After years of battling drug addiction, it wasn't easy but from watching my own education journey they also knew it wasn't impossible.

Here's How My Story Inspired Them to Go Back to College

I attended more than 10 schools before the fifth grade and I had an attitude problem in each and every classroom. I was born in Chicago to young, drug-addicted parents that had a penchant for moving and staying in and out of jail. I moved from Chicago to Paducah, Kentucky to stay with my grandmother and then back to Chicago and then back to Paducah, you get the point: I moved a lot. Which also meant I transferred schools a lot. I was always the new kid trying to catch up on coursework, make new friends, all the while knowing that I wouldn’t be at that school for long. When my grandmother passed, my father rounded me and my siblings up, and we moved to Oakland, where my father's sister lived. At the time, my mother was in jail, so the rest of us hopped on a Greyhound and took the three-and-a-half day bus ride to the Bay. My mother eventually joined us. Despite the move to Oakland, my parents would continue to struggle with drugs, and as a result we lived in several shelters.

The Teacher Who Changed It All

Once I got to junior high, I had an algebra teacher named Mr. Brown—this tall Black dude with an imposing stature. But he was able to connect with me and build my confidence in a way that no other teacher had. He was hard on me. He told me I was responsible for me, no one else was. I had to choose success. I had to choose to be different than what I saw. At the end of the school year, I got the highest grade in his class, and it felt amazing. After that, I never looked back.

The Community That Made Me Who I Am

The hard truth is that the majority of teachers I had either couldn’t or just didn't try to reach me. Fortunately, a lot of my education came from folks in my community—like my barber shop, my church, the donut shop, the bookstores and my friends. For instance, my mom had a friend who was big on Black Power and understanding where we, as Black people, come from. She inspired me to read the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” and that changed my life. I learned early that [pullquote position="right"]education was going to be my way out of poverty.[/pullquote] With the help of Mr. Brown and my community I saw that doing well in school could open other opportunities. North Oakland helped me. It raised me. It taught me that I was resilient. It taught me that even when public education "failed me," I could learn how to navigate the system and use it to create a better life for myself. And that's what I did. That's why I work within education now, to help other students like me overcome their circumstances. I know the impact a great education can have on students, their families, their community and the world. We all we got, so I'll fight for my people until I no longer can.

Charles Cole III

Charles Cole III is an educator and media producer focused on the advancement of all youth of color, but more specifically Black males. The passion comes from his own experiences growing up without proper support. His life’s goal is to better the communities he grew up in through his work. He has served as a social worker, a director for Teach For America, the vice chair of the California Young Democrats, Black Caucus and at a director’s level at various youth-focused nonprofits. Charles is a national speaker and writer and can be found in Oakland and around the country working with youth on how to equip themselves appropriately to lay the groundwork for a bright future. He is currently finishing his first book aimed at Black males titled, "Stop Hustling Backwards." Charles decided to return to work for the district he grew up in, as a community engagement specialist. There, he worked closely with the community to help drive policies that lead to educational transformation. Charles blogs at One Oakland United, Education Post, Citizen Education and Huffington Post, as well as other outlets.

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