When black men graduate from college, barriers are broken. When black men from poverty graduate from college, systems of power are shifted. When black men from poverty are the first persons in their family to graduate from college, revolution becomes possible. As I become the first person in my family to graduate from college I am led to think about the barriers (and out right luck) one has to experience and the privilege that comes from all things education. I find myself in a duality of sorts. On one hand, I know what poor feels like. I lived the experience of food stamps, rent-a-center, boarded up houses, gunshots at night, and struggle that represents the irony and contradiction of “first worlds.” I know this, because I lived this, and I lived this unwillingly. Yet, with almost a 0.1% chance of making it to the other side, I have this lived experience wrapped in a garment of poverty, while suddenly beginning to walk into a land of privilege.
On the other hand, I now live in a neighborhood where security gaurds stand on the corners at night. A neighborhood where the police are called and arrive within 2 minutes flat. A neighborhood where people feel safe enough to jog around blocks, walk their expensive dogs, and sip on the milk and honey of trust funds allotted to them by previous generations. Indeed, a duality that both contradicts itself and describes a narrative that is unlikely and rarely repeated. I, the child who comes from poverty, am no longer disadvantaged. Quite the contrary, I am now advantaged. And I feel like a spy in the enemies’ territory. I watch as they spend money, waste time, and laugh with the ease of not having to worry where the next meal, or check, or vacation is coming from.
And worse, even when I don’t want to, I become one of them. A spy turned traitor, I enter into capitalism as though I was never a victim of its perils. I enter into capitalism as though it never mis-educated me, or beat me, or even tried to kill me. I shake the hand of capitalism and kiss the check of privilege as though they wouldn’t abandon me in a second if they could. When a black man or woman from poverty is the first to graduate in their family it turns galaxies upside down and confuses those who prefer preconceived notions.
And even though dualities are both hypocritical and necessary, they are the reason for forward progress. They allowed me to understanding what is right, what is wrong, when to fight, and when to stay home. Dualities, and more importantly, the knowledge of experiential poverty, while entering into a self-acknowledged form of privilege, is all the power one needs to change the world.
When black men graduate from college, the world begins to change.