In the autumn of 2003, I was asked to represent the Chapel Hill-Carborro City Schools district at a conference for high-performing minority students across the country. After my first conference, my presence was requested two more times, one conference being in Princeton, NJ and the other in Cambridge, MA. On my travels, I met some driven, like-minded young people who come from underrepresented populations within high achieving school systems. We hashed out issues, discussed solutions that would help us close the minority student achievement gap, and worked to inspire change. Each conference was a transformative experience and they were the first of many experiences like this that I would have during my high school years.
This morning, I had the opportunity to speak to around 150 students in this year’s group at the Minority Student Achievement Network’s annual conference. I was honored because, 13 years before, I sat right where those students sat and I knew, in part, what they were experiencing. What I had not seen at their age was the level of racial and political polarity that they are seeing right now. I had not seen videos of people who look just like me killed at the hands of those who were supposed to protect me. So, as I moderated the panel of more recent MSAN alumni (interjecting when I felt the question was pivotal and my experience would add to the conference attendees’ collective understanding), I worked to provide wisdom. I told them things that I felt would help them succeed as students, as minority students, as young adults, and as minority young adults.
The level of attentiveness to myself and the four panelists was inspiring. They sat, listened, asked great questions (one very articulate young lady asked “How did your experience at MSAN change the way you viewed your purpose?”), and were obviously trying to understand how they could carry the legacy that began 16 years ago. I was transparent with them. I told them my successes and my challenges. I told them to stand for what they believe but to know that what you believe, if not popular, could come with consequences. I let them know that they ought not let anyone else define their success.
It is important to me to give back, especially to those who gave to me. When Ms. Lorie Clark called me and asked if I could moderate this alumni panel, even though I knew this was my last day at work before my vacation, I made sure to block off 2 hours on my schedule. Do you know why? Because 1) the students needed me and 2) my job wouldn’t have me were it not for programs like MSAN and LEAD and AVID and YLI, so any chance I have to give back to them, I will. I am a firm believer in the fact that young people need to see someone who looks like them in a position of success.
Now, whether you’re reading this and you’re a minority or a white male who comes from a long line of financial wealth, you have a responsibility as a human being to reach back and pull someone else up to stand beside you. And then, as they get to your level, propel them forward ahead of you. The next generation is not your competition. The next generation is your legacy. Today, I saw mine and I was proud of the work that they are doing.
Make your legacy a priority.