Three years of college done. And After surviving ¾ of my undergraduate life, I am now left to reflect, remember where I have come from, and try to figure out where I’m heading in the future. University of Chicago has not only allowed me to live a life of the mind, but it has also enabled me to live a life of activism, community engagement, and personal growth. I am “here”, but I have come a long way to be here. I am from a place that rarely achieves any level of intersection with universities like Chicago. In my high school in East Cleveland, Ohio, there is a 50% graduation rate, and only half of the students who graduate will go on to college. Most of those who do will be women.
In my city only 3 out of 100 black men will graduate from college and I will be the first person in my family to do so. My presence at this University is a symbol of odds being defeated. The University of Chicago was the only school I applied to. When I applied I knew from the very beginning that I was starting a process of breaking barriers. These are barriers that commonly exist between poor inner city communities and elite colleges and universities, but also barriers that remain concrete between black communities and colleges in general.
Some believe that this institution is only about theory, but my experience the College has taught me to turn theory into practice. I have become both a full and active member at the University and an active citizen in the larger city of Chicago. I have had the honor to be apart of an organization that goes into the South side of Chicago and uses the arts to help students see their world more clearly. I can remember one student explaining how happy he was to see University students coming into their community to build bridges. This summer I have a University grant to work for a South African organization that is dedicated to achieving greater equality in education. University of Chicago did not teach me everything. More important, it has given me the framework and the opportunities to go out and learn anything I need to know.
However, I do have some problems with the institution that I belong to. My grandmother is from the city of Chicago. She was one of the first black families to move into the Marquette Park Neighborhood of the city. My bloodline is interwoven into the history of this Chicago’s Southside. A part of that history is the marginalization of black people, the segregation of all people, and the stagnated flow of resources to certain communities throughout Chicago. It is no mistake that many people who live only blocks away do not know that there is a University in the center of the Southside. For many years the U of C very purposefully made itself invisible to the surrounding community. My grandmother lives to tell that story and she (who will be 80 years old on my graduation day a year from this week) will sit in the audience and watch me walk across the stage and receive a diploma from this University.
The University of Chicago has augmented my life and cultivated many of my talents and skills. I have grown in my theory, but also in my practice. I can honestly say that my experience at this school has been a positive one. I have decided to continue my UChicago education at the School of Social Service Administration. But I also know that I am only here, because of those who paved the way for me to be here and I will continue to be here for my fellow students and for young people in the community.