Tag Archives: Dream

Justice, Equity, Liberty: The Revolution

When I was a child, to me there was something magical in the word “American.” It stood for something special. It meant something powerful. I understood it to mean freedom, justice, and equity. I believed what I was told, that “I could be anything I wanted to be.” I dreamed of being a baseball player and a construction worker, an architect, and even the President of the United States. I played baseball, not professionally, but I played on a team. I studied architecture for a time. I owned a construction company for several years. And I was even the president of one of my schools. For most of my life I do not think I ever really doubted the version of America that was taught to me in grade school. The America that was founded upon justice, equality, and liberty. That every human being had the inalienable right to life and the right to the pursuit of happiness. Inalienable means a thing which cannot be made separable. But, if the right to life cannot be separated from any human being, then how can the State justify depriving one of life and therefore, alienating one of their right? Even if it is desirable that if a person is found beyond a shred of doubt to have committed the most heinous and horrendous of acts, and who is also not safe to maintain in confinement should be put to death, how does that justify officers of the law being responsible for the deaths of people who have had no due process of law, no fact finding, and no trial? This does not fit any definition of justice I have ever read. How is it that a State whose guiding principles are liberty and democracy is responsible for the destruction of liberal and democratic societies elsewhere? How is it that a country that screams “freedom” at the top of its lungs, touting privileges and immunities, can simultaneously also be responsible for one of the gravest institutions of enslavement this world has ever known? How is it that in the “land of the free” twenty-five percent of the prisoners of the world, who have been stripped of their liberty, their civil rights, and their human rights are being warehoused and compelled to work in a neo-enslavement? These rights, are rights that are supposed to be inalienable, that is inseparable, but that is not the case. How can a government that touts “equality before the law” also be responsible for the starkest, meanest, longest lasting, and most vile genocide ever experienced on this world, and is still oppressing Native Americans, the descendants of the survivors of that genocide to this day? How is it that a nation, supposedly founded upon equality, can permit at least three different and unequal versions of America to coexist? The version of America that was taught to me and the version of America that I have come to know are inconsistent. The values I was told existed at the core of our society have turned out to be the values we need most at the core of our society, but are absent. It has come about that the America I loved as a child is but a dream, an illusion, and a fabrication. The reality of America is nothing comparable to the dream. It is a nightmare.

The values of justice, equity, liberty, and democracy pulse from the core of my being. I believe it is possible for us to achieve a society, as a people, wherein these values are the guiding principles. I see a time and place where our people are appreciated and loved for the natural and necessary differences that make us human beings. I see a world where criticism is valued because it is understood that it comes either from a place of pain or misunderstanding, and as such provides either and opportunity to right wrongs and heal harms, or to illuminate and educate. I see a world wherein the color of our skin reveals the richness of our history, deepens our cultural understanding, expands our conception of what it means to be a human being, and enhances our inclusiveness. I see a world that is more concerned with positive tension than a negative peace, that, is more apt to resort to concession than violent opposition because it is intimately known that together we are stronger, better, more vibrant and alive than we are apart and at odds in competition with one another. I envision a world that embraces sexual difference that has broken free of the chains of discrimination, where the harmful gender norms have been shattered, where there is no prescription for and limitation of what a person can achieve or who they ‘should’ be. Because we have realized that these limitations and prescriptions constrict our ability to evolve as human beings. I see a world wherein everyone has a role to fulfill and no one is bared from or denied work, but that each unique perspective and skill is utilized and allowed the creative liberty to enhance our whole civilization. I see a world when the institution of enslavement is but a relic and a warning against a return to a tragic and ignorant past that not only believed that distinctiveness was harmful, but also that it was possible to evolve in isolation. I see a world wherein “justice” carries its true meaning of that which provides for the flourishing of our civilization and not the perverted and twisted interpretation of it as mere punishment. Through the lens of justice it would be clear that harm occurs when people are in torment, when they suffer greatly themselves and believe they are in such an isolation that what they do unto others is not in reality what they do unto themselves. Through the lens of justice it would be clear that a theft of some form of ‘property’ was because people felt the deprivation of resources, the absence of security, and the void of interconnectedness. And through the lens of equity a path to right these wrongs and to heal these harms would emerge and surface from the pits of despair and suffering, guiding us toward justice and a world in which liberty can flourish.

The path laid before us is certainly not easy and we will not make it there overnight. The ideologies that have guided our civilization to the point it is at now are deeply entrenched and are even attached to people’s sense of identity. These ideologies have been written into law, they have provided the spiritual and theoretical foundations of nearly all of our institutions and social constructions, and even permeate our artistic representations of the world. These ideologies have led to actions that have created harms that now foster feuds centuries-old, whose memories incubate and fertilize distrust and hatred. The outcome thus far, has been an almost inescapable caste system wherein people are locked into privilege or pestilence. Those in the privileged caste, who have their privileges as the result of an unfair distribution of burdens upon people who are disadvantaged and disenfranchised, will not relinquish their grasp of the benefits they reap because they will feel as though they are being wronged. They still operate under the antiquated and quite mistaken belief that what can be taken or secured by force, whether by military, or by paramilitary police, or by personal injury is by right theirs and not the people’s. It is precisely this institution of force that is buttressed with an indoctrination of the ideologies that have led us here that has brought us to an impasse.

The path laid before us is one of complete revolution. A revolution that will not only change the structure and the dynamics of who is in power, but what power actually is. This revolution will not only concern leadership, but the entire composition of our civilization. This revolution will revise our conception of what it is to be a human being. There has yet to be a bloodless revolution, but ultimately, this revolution will and must be waged in the hearts and minds of every single one of us because this is a spiritual revolution. We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience. We start as spirits, our spirits take form, and to spirits we return. We are not the creations of our institutions, but rather, our institutions are the creations of spiritual beings who have become confused by a human experience dislocated and estranged from our spirits, connection to the world, and to each other. It is this dislocation that permits the violence, the carnage and the havoc that plague our civilization. Because we have been estranged from our connection to the world and to each other we believe that we exist in relative isolation and that what we do to one another does not impact and affect us personally, but that in reality is not possible. Thus, because our spirits emanate out into the world creating institutions through our human form, by waging the revolution on the plane institutions we but scratch the surface. But by waging the revolution on the spiritual plane we go right to the source and from there a revolution of our institutions will take shape naturally as a result. In place of the individualism that has been set as the cornerstone of the foundation of our spiritual core the values of justice, equity, and liberty must be planted and protected so that they may grow and blossom.

What I have grown to understand is that it is not America that I fell in love with as a child, but rather, the spiritual values it espoused. Today, it is still those values that I am in love with and that which I place all my hope and aspiration. In turn, and by corollary, it is with humanity that I place my trust and faith in because we are interconnected spiritual beings who depend upon each and every one of us for survival and liberation. The revolution is on and either we evolve as we greet this impasse, or we shall meet extinction as we destroy ourselves and our world. Such is the nature of evolution. However, I see a future in which our culture has yet again risen to the challenge and overcome almost insurmountable odds. I believe in us. The revolution is budding.

 

 

#JusticeEquityLiberty

 

“The Real World” (Verse Two)

In the realm of the Dream

Life is served on a palter

the work, it doesn’t matter

add-up, laughter come cheaper than Präda

Worries and Woes are absent

flaccid, pass it by,

with a  flash of the passion

but if you ask’em

how lonely the mansion

he’ll lack  an answer

cuz the fact is a phantom

holdin him ransom

runnin in tandem, droppin in random

arbitrary standards

magination damned him

cuz… this is the land of the real

Where hard work

pays perks, quench thirsts, and hurts

time bursts, through curse

and friends are survivors

Standing and walking the road there to shoulder

the weight of the burden,

defendin the verdict,

your struggle is worth it,

a hint is emergent

that hurdles averted

and, outcomes are real

tangible the feel

hold them in your hand

like them cards you have to deal

and you get what you’ve got

but have to use your skill

cuz nothing comes cheap

In the land of the real

 

 

https://renaissancethepoet.wordpress.com/2014/06/14/the-real-world-verse-one/

“The Real World” (Verse One)

Livin a dream…

Nah, I’m livin the way that it is

Cuz there is something I’m bound to miss

If my head is up in the mist

Like a fist to the gut

fisticuffs

riskin to rush

cuz I’m missin the bus

missin her love

cuz I’m trapped in the lust

In the land of the lost

betta do what you must

Cuz… this is the land of the real

where cats squeal

caps peal

Bad deals, rap sheets, not rap deals

but real bills and missed meals

Where poverty comes with a blank, check

Where is the rent, betta make, that

Racial Profile, skin is BLACK

Cops they hatin, that a fact

hood they renovatin that

Gentrification, they phasin, balzin away the relations

raisin the rents to erase’em

this is the land of the real

not the land of the dream and appeal

not the land of the cream and the fill

but, the land they tax and kill…

Using the people, breakin their backs

to make them dollars in stacks

legal contracts

all been sealed with melted wax

Small fish in a LARGE pond? Make Waves!

It is not easy jumping into a large pond with your dreams in one hand and your concerns in the other while everyone else and their mamma is doing the exact same thing. There is no reason to feel like you are not supposed to feel just the way that you feel because there is nothing wrong with feeling uncomfortable about doing something that is new and is usually, by definition scary. So, just what is the solution to feeling insignificant? What can be done about being caught off guard by unforeseen circumstances while pursuing your dreams?  And how are these two questions and their answers related? I will answer these questions and many more.

 

I have never experienced anything quite so, humbling as walking onto the campus of University of Washington for the first day of class.  I finally understand the saying; “Small fish in a large pond,” because over 40,000 students converged into a seemingly endless wave flooding Red Square and classes. I just graduated from North Seattle Community College at the end of last spring and when I graduated I do not think that there were many people on the campus who either did not know me, or know of me. Now that may sound pomp, but not only do I tend to stand out like a sore thumb nowadays, but I was also on the student government and a hip hop head on campus. It is difficult not to be noticed when I do the types of things that I used to be terrified to do.

 

However, I have not always been popular, or as full of courage as I have been these last couple of years. In truth, I used to be a terrified, scrawny, nobody that people could forget just after I walked away. I could not stand up in front of any one and speak, could not speak to girls, and I used to lack the courage to even set goals, let alone to pursue them. I was as afraid of success as I was of failure, it was a true dilemma. There were many things that led to the change that occurred in my life, but I will start with two sayings that I have now fused themselves into my bones:

 

1)       “I got sick and tired of being sick and tired,” and this was important to me because I finally reached a point in my life that I was fed up with complaining about continuously ending up in the same position.

 

2)      “When the pain outweighs the pain then we change,” and this was important because it means that when the pain of remaining the same is greater than the pain of doing something different, then it becomes less painful to do something new and we may then begin to change.

 

These two short and fairly simple sayings were simple enough to get through the fog that was my denial and yet complex enough to provide me with some real benefit. Yet, just being sick and tired of being sick and tired is not quite enough to effect any real change. It is like going onto a diet and jumping back off of it as soon as the weight is lost, only to regain the weight again because none of the long term habits have been revised. For a change to truly take hold and remain consistent, it must not only be sustainable, but it also has to have purpose behind it. That purpose is the direction the goals direct us into.

 

So, in effect, what I am saying is that for any change to become permanent, there has to be a goal attached to it and further that that goal must not have a completion date to it. I know that this seems counter intuitive, because the usual interpretation of a goal is that it is something to be achieved. However, you may decide to set a goal, like I did many times, actually achieve the goal, and do like I have done over and over again, and revert back to the old behavior once the goal was accomplished. So, the goal must have an achievement date, but for the purposes of manifesting the type of change that we are attempting to make, this needs to be a living goal that never fully comes to an end.

 

Yet, for a goal to truly take shape, you will have to get down to the roots, the causes and conditions to set a goal that will meet the requirements of what the problem truly is. Otherwise, the goal will answer something that is not the problem, if it answers anything at all. The problem that I had with feeling insignificant was not really that I felt unnoticed, in reality, it was more that I felt lonely. You see the amount of people was not actually that important, it was the quality of the relationships that I had. I will tell you from experience, you can know everyone in a large room and still feel alone. Being a creature, a human being that derives the necessary bonds from being connected with others, that we need the connections formed through relationships. Thus, my goal became to manifest life-long and healthy relationships with people that I was truly invested into their lives.

 

It is perhaps an ironic occurrence, but one cannot have friends if one is not a friend to others. That is why the essence of my goal was not to earn friends but to actually be a friend to others. It was not until I formed the initial goal, that I truly began to envision why I was so lonely; I had not learned how to be a friend to others. To be a real friend to another human being entails first, listening to them. This is more than just hearing them speak and waiting for your turn to jump in. It requires that you make the time and invest the energy to digest what their opinions, hopes, sorrows and dreams are, to question their assertions and respond to their concerns. Being friends with someone is not just about being heard because relationships are symbiotic in nature consisting of both giving and receiving what we need; each other.

 

The next component of being a friend, having friends and keeping them is the keeping of your promises. Morals govern our own actions and they also help us to govern our collective actions. And what is requisite for the nurturing of any relationship is that which is the basis of morality; honesty. Honesty entails the honoring of your promises. Without these two conditions being fulfilled, then there can actually be no relationship because without honesty we can never share our true selves or know anyone else’s true self; and without honoring our promises, then what we promise equates to lies and destroys the relationships we have. And without relationships our groups and consequentially all of society with it crumbles and is why honesty is the basis of all morality.

 

Society is such that we are taught and we learn how to protect that which is most venerable about us. Ironically, we tend to protect that which makes us most human. We protect that which makes us most unique and interesting to others; our idiosyncrasies and nuances, the secret thoughts that reveal our true character, our dreams. And instead of presenting this to the world we learn how to conceal this and put on a cookie-cutter-personality-face so that we can fit in the world and not stick out too much. And while this is a strategy that tends to work to help us survive the tumultuous gauntlet that is public life, it is also insanely difficult to learn how to shut it off. Thus, what tends to happen is that this front, this mask that we put on for the world, we continue to wear for our friends and they do not get to know who we really are because we are afraid to let them into our worlds. Sometimes it gets so bad that we can even forget who we really are. And if we do not know who we are, then how can we share ourselves with someone else? If we cannot share ourselves with someone else, then how can we be a friend? And if we cannot be a friend, then how can we have friends? These are important questions to consider as you think about this mask you wear for the world.

 

I effect what these masks do for us is to keep the world at a distance. However, therein lies the problem, it keeps the world at a distance and leaves us isolated from the people of the world, which is the opposite of what we truly want. This is the quintessential example of a paradox that we ourselves create whereby, the thing that we want most is also the thing that we are most afraid to allow because we are afraid that we will not be accepted for who we really are. We are afraid that we are not worth loving. I have found though, that when I have taken off my mask and let people know who I really am, that I have not been ostracized, I have not been laughed at, and I have actually been accepted and loved. This is how and when I started to have real relationships, relationships without the masks that I have trained myself to put on for the world so that I can fit in. The crazy part is that the world hates those masks and is just dying for us to take them off because we have been craving for contact with real human beings for so long we have forgotten what it feels like.

 

 

By this point you may be asking; “this is all fine and well, but where did you get the courage to approach others from?” And this is an important question because for many of us, and especially me, the act of introducing me to others used to paralyze me. To see me or to know me today, most people, unless they knew me when I was a teenager, would never believe that I was the shiest person you were likely to have ever met. Anyone who has ever witnessed me performing a piece of Spoken Word or a Hip Hop song would blatantly deny that I had ever been shy. However, I used to be terrified to be in front of a crowd of any size and do anything, and that includes walking to class. I used to get so worked up in what I thought other people saw, that I would trip over my own feet attempting to walk a straight line, let alone putting me on a stage to perform something that I had written myself. Nonetheless, that is precisely who I was when I was younger. I was terrified that people would see the chinks in my mask and discover who I truly was, a scared little boy crying out for affection.

 

Anyone who has ever felt like the all-seeing eye of the public was focused on them, like I did, may think that it is counter intuitive to assert that most people do not focus enough on others to actually notice all of our idiosyncrasies. Psychologists call this the “Spotlight Effect,” whereby we think that others notice all the little minute details about ourselves, but that is just not the case. There is just too many stimuli in the world to them focus on those minute details. For me, this was a true paradox because I felt that nobody noticed me at all and yet, at the same time I was also terrified that they noticed me too much. It is quite comical when I think about it now and I can chuckle, but back then it was the crucible of Hell for me.  What I am getting at, is that I was not the center of the universe no matter how much I wanted to be. Nobody focused on me like they focus on the sun in the morning as it raises above the horizon, no, I was just plain old average Michael.

 

Being sick and tired of being sick and tired, having the pain outweigh the pain, and dying for some change I let all of my fear go and threw away my masks, all of them. At first, it was weird and horrifying, and was like walking around naked. I was like a hatchling bird poking its head in and out of its shell as I broke though getting a little taste of freedom and then diving back into the complacent warmth. They say that all you need is the faith of a mustard seed. Well, all it took was that first taste of liberation and I was hooked. I was like being woke from the Matrix (I took the green pill) and the world became brand new. For the first time in my life I was able to be myself and I could not go back if I wanted to. And that is when the strangest and most unforeseen result started to happen, when the people I met loved this contact with a real human being that they could relate to, I was accepted on the spot.

 

So, I started breaking all the rules that I had built up in my head. I used to be terrified to walk up to someone and reach out my hand and say, “hi, my name is Michael. How are you? What is your name?” and it was something so simple, but it may as well have been Jupiter that I was trying to reach before then. People are terrified of it, but they are so dying for a connection with another living, breathing, feeling human being that some will recoil in fear and the rest will jump all over the opportunity to be free as well.

 

The point that I am attempting to drive home is that most people are just as terrified as you are to make that first contact that they will appreciate your making the first move. When I finally realized that, and I knew that people really did love me for who I was, not what my mask showed the world that I was, it all got real easy. And it also allowed me to set the terms for the engagements, which means that I could make the approaches on my terms. The way I learned how to make the approach to other was I just got off my ass and did it!

 

This is the shape that the goal I initially made to earn friends took. It started out that I did not feel so ostracized, then turned into a goal to not feel lonely, which inevitably evolved into being a friend to others, and how to be a friend. And the goal finally concluded took its full shape with the dynamic of with how to make friends.  Thus, I had actually developed a life-long plan of how to live and be a true friend, and this plan in turn has earned me the friends that I had always wanted. Today I no longer feel insignificant.

 

That answers my first question: “just what is the solution to feeling insignificant?” and now I will address the question of dreams. At the beginning of this discussion I mentioned that I had just begun to attend the University of Washington and how little of a blip that I was walking onto the campus. This effect can the subsequent feeling can be felt regardless of the size of the group you have just entered, but I will tell you from experience it is quite sobering to be confronted with 40,000 other students. It is true, that walking onto a campus of this size that one could feel estranged and unimportant. You may be asking yourself what this has to do with achieving a dream. Well, last year I attended a Students of Color conference hosted by several minority groups and several colleges and universities from the state of Washington and one of the primary things that they drove in was how we needed a network to be successful in a four year university.

 

If you are like me and have come from, or are coming from a small school where it was possible to know just about everyone, then a campus like this is a huge difference. I come from a place that just about any network that I could have desired was just a stone-throw-away from any place that I stood. By network, I mean a Social Network or rather a collection of people who are all engaged in some specific act and have shared goals. Two of the most important characteristics of a social network are the shared experiences that group members have and the experiences that can be shared about how to overcome adversities. People in these networks understand us and we do not have to explain, they just seem to implicitly know because they have either dealt with or are dealing with the same types of issues that we ourselves are going through.

 

I cannot even begin to try to explain how many times I have attempt to explain to a European American what it is like being an African American attempting to get an education, or the pain that is associated with it.  There are just some things that I have to deal with that group of people are unfamiliar with, but other African Americans know precisely what my struggles are. This is not an attack on any one individual or any group this is simply an observation that has been confirmed repeatedly. And the observation also works in reverse, I am either not aware of all the circumstances that European Americans face or I do not understand them all. Now this is not to say that there are not benefits to forming groups, alliances and friendships with people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, quite the contrary in fact because they can be incalculably valuable. However, when I need help with some specific issue, or I need a confidant that I can express my troubles with it helps to have someone who understands where I am coming from.

 

Social networks have further importance as well. This is especially true if these social networks are formed around more than just race or ethnicity. Furthermore, there is no rule that states that any person can only be involved in one group. The more groups that we are linked into the more resources become available to us like; job opportunities, scholarship opportunities, events to join in, parties, study groups and the like. And perhaps most important to this discussion is that they gives us groups of people to belong to so that we do not have to feel so alone.

 

This brings us to the crux of this discussion, which is how not to feel so alone on a campus the size of this the University of Washington. Last week I walked onto the campus and every organization you can imagine that a campus would have; the Hip Hop Student Association, the Black Student Union; the History Honor Society; the Arm Wrestling Club, the Earth Club, and son on were tabling in Red Square and I just went up and got linked in. As I have said, I learned not to have to wear my masks in public any longer, and that people were dying to meet me just as much as I was dying to meet them, so I just walked up to the people that I thought were interesting and introduced myself. That is the purpose of tabling. They were there to meet people, so that is precisely what I did. I found out when they met and I joined in. Now that is not to say that I was not afraid, of course I was afraid, but I was more interested in making those connections and developing the networks that the people at the Students of Color Conference promised me would make all the difference to my success while I attend the university.

 

For example, I went to the meet and greet hosted by the Black Student Union and although I am of African American descent, sometimes I still feel out of place in a group of all Black people, because I do not speak much slang any longer and I do not do many of the things that (I think) they do, and so I feel as though I stick out. But, I do not have any more masks to wear, so when it came time for me to interact, I only had to choices; run or stay silent, or interact and make the friends that I have always wanted: and I chose to interact and I made those friends. You see, I have learned that who you are is not as important, as it is that you are.

 

The final component was making friends in class. Now this goes hand-in-hand with social networks because the people in you classes will be going through exactly the same struggles as you are as you are going through them. So, linking up with them will be vitally important to you meeting with success in school because they will have picked out different things as important from the material, will have notes that you missed and can help to make concept clearer for you. Plus, if you have not been to a university lecture hall you are in for a real treat, if you are an undercover nerd like I am because the lecture halls seat a minimum of 200 people. That was quite a shock to me when I walked in because I was used to 30 person classrooms where I could touch my professor. So, having a few friends in the lecture hall will turn that ginormous room into something very manageable for you.

 

The first thing was that I had to read my books. This may seem like an over simplification and something that need not be said. However, I cannot begin to tell you how many students come to a university and do not read their books. (Why does someone waste the $20,000 + per year on tuition if, they do not want to learn, it makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever, but it happens.) The point is to earn your degree so that we can become successful in life and in order for that to be possible, we have to learn the material and that includes reading our books, but I digress and that is a topic for another discussion. The point is, having a meager understanding of the material as I walk into class allows me to be able to have a dialogue with both the other students in the classroom and the professor before, during and after the lecture. So that when the professor asks a question, I can raise my hand and more often than not, I have the answer because I have read the material. I know you may be like, “you are one of those people,” and let me tell you what, there are more people there who want to be successful than not, so those are the people that the rest of the people want to know because if you are that person then people will want to study with you and thus, you attract the people to you.

 

Second, is that just like with the Black Student Union, I walked into the classroom the very first day, having completed the reading for the week and I started introducing myself to everyone that was in a close vicinity to me. I sit in the front row and that means that I have to get there early enough to get my seat. I do this because I went to a lecture presented by a man named John Vroman, who wrote a book titled; Living College Life in the Front Row, and gave a lecture on how to be successful in college. Basically what he said was that you have to get right up in the mix. The natural tendency for people that are like me, who have traditionally not liked to stick out is to find a place in the back. And this may have its origin in that African Americans were traditionally told to sit in the back, and the theory of Oppisitional Identity, which states that it is not cool for an African American to be intelligent or academically active and engaged. Thus, what I have learned is that in order for me to be successful is to shatter those negative stereotypes, break my negative perceptions of who I think and other think that I am supposed to be, and to sit in the front row. What I have found is that the other people in the front row were just as engaged and determined to meet with success as I was/am.

 

The result is that now all of my professors and teachers know me on a first name basis and so do many of the students on campus. On a campus of over 40,000 students I am no longer just an outlier and I am set up with some of the most profound and strongest leaders. As such, I am set to meet with success. When you are a small fish in a large pond, do not just wade in and become an outlier feeling insignificant. Jump in with both feet, Cannon Ball that SHIT!!! And make waves.

 

This realization came hand in hand with the realization that in order for me to have a friend, I first had to be a friend; and that in order for me to meet with success I had to have friends, I could not do it alone. That I had to throw off the bondage of my pride and get rid of the masks I was wearing so that I could truly be myself and make some real connections. And that myself, without the front was worth being both loved and appreciated. Be yourself and makes waves through the lives of the people who are just dying to meet you, the real you, and set yourself on the path to achieving your dreams.

I am a HUSKY

UW logo

I have dreamt my whole life that I would be worthy enough to attend the University of Washington, but I never truly believed it was possible until now. Still, it feels like I am dreaming.  My life took so many twists and turns while I was growing up that I never knew where I was going to end up and I felt powerless to direct my own life, to say the least. Yet, just over two years ago I decided that I was going give everything I had, invest every ounce of energy, and to make every necessary sacrifice in order to accomplish this life-long dream. In one week from today I am going to walk onto the campus for the first time as a student of the University of Washington.

For me, attending the University of Washington is a gateway into a new life. I am not saying that other universities are not as credible or as life-changing. What I am saying is that as a first generation college student this is an evolutionary step into the future of my family. Even as an American in this supposed “land of opportunity,” when I was born I had a limited set of opportunities to pursue.  I am a man of mixed descent; my mother is African-American and my father is Irish-American, and both of my parents are mixed with Native-American, so I am about as light-skinned as we come. That does not overshadow the “One Drop” rule that states, “one drop of African blood and you are considered African—Black,” and the opportunities for Black children were not as forthcoming as they were for White children when I was born.

My maternal grandmother is retired now, but she worked through temporary work agencies for twenty years because she lacked the education necessary to acquire any long-term employment. My maternal grandfather was a mechanic in the United States Air Force in the 1960’s and when he returned to the states he began to work for Metro driving buses. My mother has been a house-keeper for twenty years and has done everything and provided everything that any child could both need and want. However, she has always felt the lack of not having an education. All she ever wanted was for her children to have a better life than she has had and to have opportunities that she never had.  Everyone in my family is well read and very intelligent, but in this credential society that relies on proof of knowledge in the form of a piece of paper, their intelligence has been neither respected, nor accepted.

I wish that I had more to say about my father’s family, but the truth is that my mother, my brother and I, and even my father were disowned because my father married a Black woman and he had mixed children. There has been a long standing feud between Irish immigrants and African-Americans since the 18th and 19th Centuries, because these two groups were pitted against one another in competition for resources and jobs. That feud has been passed down through the generations and it ripped my family apart; racism and oppression is still alive today and all I need to prove this is my own family experience. The point is that, these are the reasons that I do not know much about my paternal family.  My father however, was not very productive because he suffered from alcoholism and a mental illness that fueled a psychosis that caused us to flee him when I was but a child. I have not seen or heard from my father since I was ten years old. My mother has raised my brother and me since then.

If it is not evident already in what I have said, my family was and is economically challenged. Affording college for two sons, let alone some of the things that most Americans consider staples in their lives was not possible. The tuition and expenses of attending the University of Washington is approximately $20,000 a year and the costs were no less bleak when I was eighteen years old. Unless I was able to earn scholarships, my family was not going to be able to send me to college.

However, I did not have the grades to earn those scholarships because when I was fourteen years old I became a member of the neighborhood gang and I dropped out of school. There are many reasons that can be listed for why I made those decisions, and they are all pertinent, but the reality is that those decisions destroyed my hopes of earning scholarships when I was a teenager and with it my dreams of attending the University of Washington.

At this point, I fell into the footsteps of my father and I thus continued the cycle of alcoholism. It is a vile and corrosive enemy that is a paradoxical trickster; on the one hand alcohol and drugs can be imbibed for spirituality or relaxation, but it can also be addicting and destructive. Some say that alcoholism is a disease, and of those that believe that, some also say that it is a family disease. If that is true, and my experience would suggest that it is at least possible, then that would also mean that my children are at risk. It has also been shown that socioeconomic conditions contribute to the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs. If this is true, then not only was that a factor in my life, but it would also be a factor in the lives of my children. If all of this is true, then my not going to college would mean that I could not climb out of the cycle of socioeconomic despair because I would not have the credentials to earn gainful employment and, the cycle of alcoholism would be passed onto my children who could potentially pass it onto their children as well.

By the grace of God, I was able to get away from the drugs and alcohol and even the gang when I was nineteen years old, but by that time the damage was done. I was distrusted by society, I had a criminal record, I had no education and I was struggling just to keep my head above water. What I had going for me was the desire to break the cycles which had plagued my family for generations. So, slowly with the help of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, I began to put the pieces of my life back together and to make reparations for the harm that I had caused to my family and the people of this great society. It took a few years, but I did finally re-earn the trust of society, rebuilt the broken relationships with my family and friends, and I found employment in the service industry.

In 2004, I was given the opportunity to enter into the construction industry. This too, however, was only a step in the right direction because while it did afford me some room for growth, it did not allow me to use my brain. I moved up in the company rather quickly because I was good with my hands and I was good with people, and I started to attend classes to help me with business and construction management, which included project management. Yet, these were only certificate classes, and as I began to excel in them it rewetted my appetite for a real education, at first for construction management, but then for law. There was still the little problem of being able to afford the tuition and expenses, though, and I could not find a way to manage it. I soon came to the harsh realization though that if I did not leave the construction industry I would destroy my body, my chances for a college degree, and I would possibly not break the cycle my family was stuck in. And in 2011, I left my construction career to pursue a law degree by whatever means necessary.

That is when I started to attend North Seattle Community College to earn my Associate of Arts degree. My mother, still a house-keeper took me in so that I could devote all of my energy to my studies and I have lived with her ever since. This was very humbling because since I was nineteen years old, I had been on my own and sought to take care of myself, but there was no way that I was going to be able to do that and succeed in college alone. My mother cared for my living situation and I was able to secure financial aid to afford to pay for classes, book and transportation. Getting approved for and maintaining my financial aid status was not easy, I was constantly having to apply and appeal decisions, but with the help of my mother and the people in the financial aid office at NSCC, I was able to find every cent that I needed to continue my education.

Adjusting to collegiate life was not easy, I had been away from true academic life for many years and I had to relearn how to be a student. When I was seven years old, I suffered from a massive brain injury during a car accident that left me with a very short attention span and migraine headaches. This made reading miserably difficult for me because halfway through a paragraph I might forget everything that I had just read. Yet, I was determined not to be defeated and I invested myself into learning techniques so that I could stay focused.

Professor Gutierrez, my English 102 instructor was incredibly helpful in teaching me how to stay focused. He taught me how to annotate as I read by underlining the important lines, blocking out important sections, and writing in the margin. All of this was vastly different than my experience in high school—when I did attend—because we could not write in our borrowed books and no one taught us how to take notes, and I finally began to have an experience of my own with the books that I was reading. As I began to do this, I found that I could not only remain focused while reading, but that I could actually retain the information better because I had owned it and made it part of myself. He also taught me how to write clearly and precisely and how to provide accurate citations of other people’s work that I assimilated into my own assignments. All of which I carried through into the rest of my classes and helped me to succeed in every one of them.

Beyond all my greatest hopes, dreams, and aspirations I did the unbelievable; I graduated from North Seattle Community College June 14, 2013 with my Associate of Arts degree. And not only did I graduate, but I was also the valedictorian of my graduating class. Even as I write this, I sit in near disbelief that I actually accomplished what I never believed possible, what seemed impossible for so long became a reality and I exceeded what I hoped was possible for a person like me with the history that I have. That very same week I received a letter from the University of Washington stated that I had been accepted for enrollment in the autumn of 2013, my dream was coming true. Yet, there was still one piece of the puzzle that had not been accounted for: tuition and expenses.

I immediately began applying for scholarships and financial aid, but hit just about every roadblock that could emerge. I discovered that I was supposed to have my financial aid request submitted the previous February. Neither my counselors at NSCC, nor anything I read on the UW website prepared me for that. And at that time, the apartment complex that my mother and I were staying at was bought by new owners and for an unspecified reason they evicted us, so we had to fight to find a place to live in a very limited amount of time. My head was not in the game and I barely scraped through the quarter with my grades intact. None of that changed the fact that in being fair to all students, we all need to make the deadlines regardless of the life circumstances are present, or at least so I thought.

As it turned out, the University of Washington also had an appellate process. In the appeal I was allowed to make the true and accurate claim that because I was a first generation college student that I was unaware of how to maneuver through the bureaucratic system. I was also able to establish that I met the need-based-requirements for federal assistance and in late July, my appeal was approved and I was given the money that I needed to attend the University of Washington.

By earning my Associate of Arts degree I have already broken the cycle that my family has been in for generations, but an AA degree does not open many doors however, because in today’s credential society that is nearly equivalent to what a high school diploma was worth thirty years ago. The University of Washington is my gateway into a new life because the degree I will earn will place me in a higher employment bracket and will help me to gain access to the professional degree that I am pursuing. This is a dream come true, but this is only the beginning.

I have several plans for what I want to do with the degrees that I am going to ear at the University of Washington.  The most important of which is that once I graduate I will finally be able to afford to buy my mother a house, get her out of the house-keeping industry and to send her to school to earn the degree that she has always wanted to earn. Besides earning my own degree, I cannot think of a better way to repay her for all that she has invested into me and my development all these years. Next, what I want to do is use the law degree that I will earn is turning that into a mechanism to benefit humanity. Currently, I am working on a project to develop a curriculum utilizing hip hop and poetry to reach other at-risk-youth to instruct them on how to be successful in college. Later, I will be focusing on public policy and the United States government as a means to effect positive change.

For a man like me, all of this is nearly unbelievable and I am beside myself with gratitude. In seven days I will be walking into my first class at the University of Washington and stepping into the first day of the rest of my life.

If I have learned anything through this process, then it is this:

 “All dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”

~Walt Disney