I graduated from Johnson C Smith University in 2009, firmly believing that I had the world in the palm of my hand. I didn’t have all the answers, but up until that point I’d asked all the right questions, and followed the itemized list that littered my path to success. I knew that whatever I wanted to do, I could do. I’d grown up surrounded by a loving and encouraging family, immediate and otherwise. I’d always been told of how proud I made them, how happy they were that I was graduating first high school, then college. My mother and father had instilled in me a deep sense of self-worth and made sure that I knew that I was capable of greatness.
When I arrived at JCSU in 2005 I was surrounded by young men and women from increasingly different backgrounds, that were my age, that had some of the same dreams – but that were so completely different from me it was astounding. I thought I would be around young people that would openly discuss the problems of the world, the state of Black America, the sort of people that would let go of petty high school tendencies and seek to better themselves. I hoped to better myself, and I like to believe that I did – but there are days that I am not so sure.
When I arrived at Purdue in 2010, I thought I would be surrounded by young men and women from increasingly different backgrounds, that were my age, that had some of the same dreams – and who would give me the sort of environment I believed I missed out on in college. I found myself quickly disenchanted with my life as a graduate student with respect to both social and educational aspects. Who was I helping? How was I helping them? Were my services at a lab bench, trapped in a dungeon-like lab for 8 hours a day (when I was only being paid for 4) really doing anything for anyone? I tried to tell myself that it was. I tried to tell myself that getting a PhD would allow me to be a better professor (as I wanted, and still would like, to teach at the college level). I had a plan – get a PhD, endure a post-doc, return to my alma mater, liberate the department chair position from the clutches of whichever professor currently held it, and create the department that I should have had when I was there.
But, I’ve grown to realize that I am meant to do so much more. I see the increasing need for mentors in the Black community. I see the need for constant encouragement of our young people – a funny thing for me to say since I am only currently 23. As I move further along in my education, I see less of me: outspoken Black men and women who envision a future for the world that is better than that which they found. Is it because I didn’t look, or because they simply aren’t there? Either option would result in the same – there should be more.
While a student at JCSU I only did a small part. I mentored for a year – and it was the most fulfilling job that I ever had the pleasure of taking part in. I cried when I couldn’t get a student to see how beautiful she was, when she couldn’t see what I saw. It broke my heart to see her in such pain. I wanted her to eventually get to the point where she could look in the mirror and say “I’m brilliant and I’m capable of anything. That alone makes me beautiful.” Did she ever get there? I don’t know. I failed her. I didn’t take the time to keep in touch. I left JCSU and I left her.
This realization wracks me. It makes me realize that our schools and our communities need a network of mentors and educators that will be willing to be dedicated to a life or lives for the long term. We need a network that will partner with middle and high schools in our community and mentor our growing children. I hear children every day talking about their dreams of being business executives, athletes, doctors and lawyers. JCSU has students that are on that very path. JCSU has graduated people that have embraced these very professions – who live in Charlotte and the surrounding areas. We need to connect the professionals with the students. Give them an opportunity to see a world that exists beyond their front doors. Give them an environment akin to the one in which I was cocooned – a family of people that are constantly saying not only, “you can do this,” but also, “you will do this.” A network of people that is unwilling to see their young people give up. A network that will have a hand in creating a generation that will enter graduate and professional schools, and graduate from them surrounded by people that look like them.
I propose this to you, Dr. Carter, because as a young woman of 23 I am unfulfilled with life. I know there is so much more that I can do for this world than sit at a lab bench all day. I can use the power of my experience and my words to help guide someone through their high school careers and into a college one. I envision a program that will raise money to fund scholarships for children to attend college. A program that will teach them about the different avenues they can pursue in life. One that will have a hand in increasing the literacy rates within the Black community. One that will as a byproduct, see the numbers of young Black men and women graduating from high school and beyond increase. I believe that JCSU and its students can do this. I would like to work with you, our current and past students to make this dream a reality so that we can help our young children live theirs.
We start with one school, with a few children. We ask them, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We ask them, “How do you think you get there?” And we help them achieve those goals. We help them study for their exams. We use our science majors to help them learn the differences between meiosis and mitosis, or English majors – the differences between adjectives and adverbs. Most importantly, we don’t just work with them for a year. We work with them for as long as we are able and as long as they are willing. I believe in this, I believe it can work because I have seen it work. I know personally what mentorship has the potential to do. I hope that you can see this dream as a reality as well. I hope that we can work together in the very near future to make this happen.