By: Asha Beasley
Lately, on social media, many people have been posting positive stories of black people who have successfully obtained their bachelor’s/master’s/doctorate degree. We all know that this is done to stop the stereotype of the stupid, uneducated black American. It is actually heartwarming to see an Instagram post about a woman who recently graduated with a P.H.D in physics or a black couple who graduated with their master’s degrees on the same day.
However, once we close Instagram, Twitter, and/or Facebook, we’re once again faced with the reality that these inspirational stories are not all that common. Growing up in a predominately black school system, stories like these were hardly ever told. For many people, simply graduating from high school was the biggest achievement of their life.
In my high school graduating class (2014), only about half of the graduates actually went to college, and many of them have dropped out within the past year. About 20-30 seniors out of about 75-80 did not even graduate. So, as I entered my first year of college, I couldn’t help but think about these things. But the one thing I knew was that I did not want to become just another stereotype.
What actually drew me to this specific predominately white college in rural Ohio was (surprisingly) the abundance of intelligent black students. I had never encountered this in high school despite being surrounded by black people every day. I had never met another black person who looked like me with thick thighs, natural hair, and could carry a conversation about current events and social issues.
It’s not that my classmates in high school were any less intelligent, it’s just that I found myself bonding with these new people more than I had ever bonded with anyone in high school. It was intriguing. To be fair, the black students at my high school mainly came from the inner city, and attended a not-so-great school. I had yearned for likeminded people who actually wanted to learn and talk about the things that are going on in our world. Once I got to college that is exactly what I got. It was as if the inspiring posts about educated black people and #BlackExcellence from my Instagram timeline had come to life and now stood in front of me: a new group of inspiring, African American students who looked, acted, and sounded just like me.
Being surrounded by new people who collectively have new goals in their lives has also had a profound effect on my life. Watching people your age becoming successful and receiving recognition for their achievements in their talents or academics is one of the most inspiring moments I have ever experienced. It is very true that, when you see people doing good things, it makes you want to do good yourself. This is especially true when you are black.
Many times you may see white people doing these things, but this is the norm. Once you begin to notice a black person who is excelling in the world even though they have experienced the same (if not more) injustices and oppression as you, it is heartwarming, and encouraging at the same time. Suddenly you are able to say to yourself, “If she can do it, so can I.”
But what’s become of my high school classmates? One thing that drew me to write this article was the sight of some of the smartest people from my graduating class who are now working minimum wage jobs, and taking classes at the community college. Now, I understand that many people leave college for financial reasons. However, that’s not the case for many people. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we allow ourselves to scrape the bare minimum in regards to our lives and our futures? One reason for this might be the lack of representation in
black communities. I know that, in my community, there weren’t many educated black people to look up to. We mainly had rappers/singers, athletes, etc. And while there is nothing wrong with those careers, a young black person who may not have these specific talents is left without an idol to look up to.
Personally, as a high school student who dreamed of being a writer, it was hard to picture myself in the future. My classmates had big dreams, and always saw themselves as a young Jay-Z and winning a Grammy, a young LeBron James and winning the NBA Championship, or even just leaving the city. I mean, how many writers have been widely successful within the past 10 years ever since books sales have been rapidly declining?
And now I’ll end by offering some advice to current, future and prospective college students,
Finding an inspiration may save your life while you are in school. You may become sad, depressed, you may have an existential crisis in which you contemplate your whole life, and you may even consider dropping out of school because it seems like the easiest thing to do. But, having someone to motivate you (either directly or indirectly) can let you know that someone who looks like you and has gone through the same struggles as you is perfectly fine. In a way, I guess you could look at that motivational person as yourself in a few years: intelligent, educated, and inspiring someone else to chase their dreams.