Over the past few years, social media has shed light on discrepancies in the proverbial American Dream: young people of color being gunned down, inequities in treatment of flight passengers and most recently, the ability to pay one’s way into their college of choice. Cuffs are being slapped on the wealthy this past week after “discovering” the use of an intermediary to bribe, cheat, and steal for their children to enter America’s top universities. However, similar to people of color being gunned down, and poor treatment and service for people of color, this behavior is NOT new.
I wish I could unveil myself as the anomaly from all of these disparities, but I can’t. I spent four years at the Hotchkiss School, an elite boarding school that is within the top 25 schools sending students to Harvard, Princeton or Yale, and heralded as one of the top boarding schools in America. During my time there, I maintained a high B/low A average, but didn’t immediately matriculate to college because no one told me that a young, less-than-affluent student from Red Hook, Brooklyn had to actually pay for college. My classmates were entering elite schools of their choice and not worrying about the price tag. I watched many classmates receive acceptance letters with joy after I had written, proofread or given a once over to their application essays; with their merit never in question. Little did I know that an endowment gift, a high-priced intermediary, or even a legacy afforded them entrance to wherever they desired. Ultimately, I did matriculate at Northeastern and finished my graduate studies at NYU with a lifetime GPA of 3.89. I worked for it.
It may be appalling that there are people who would pay to increase the odds of their children’s acceptance to a top university, but money has been widening the odds since its inception. We could all attempt to stop the world and overthrow the system, or, like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (thank you Fliakos, Frankenbach and Burchfield for this), we could defeat it from the inside out.
Black and brown children who’ll attend a local high school, or an elite city high school, or the most elite boarding schools they can find, I encourage you: don’t stop!
Someday, fairness will be the clarion call of the systems by which we live. Someday, equity will supersede equality, and those in positions of power will realize that solely throwing funding at a problem doesn’t create equal opportunity. Someday, the education you receive within your neighborhood of varying languages, colors, and creeds will reflect the history that you have lost because the matriarchs of our families have long since passed on. And someday, what they say you can’t do, you can; what they say you won’t do, you will; and what they say you shouldn’t do, you’ll do, unapologetically tearing down the barriers and rising in a blaze of glory from within their constraints - being you. Beautiful you.
I know, I know… you may be asking yourself: how does he know? I remember when older black and brown women who locked arms with the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. laughed at a younger me, saying I couldn’t be the President because that just wouldn’t happen in their lifetime. Then, Barack Hussein Obama brought tears to the eyes of those mothers and their daughters as America welcomed change. I remember when the names floating around Silicon Valley belonged solely to white men and couldn’t compare to Gates or Jobs, but a young black friend of mine, Tristan Walker - who wore Jordans just like us and who came from the city just as us - crushed the stereotypes, blazing his way through the Valley all the way to Procter & Gamble. Finally, I readily recall asking Alan van Capelle, a trailblazer in the LGBTQ community, who currently leads a traditionally Jewish nonprofit in NYC that once would have not welcomed him, if there was room for a kinky-curly haired (with a part in the side), flashy dressing black male in the NYC nonprofit leadership space. His reply: “You’re damn right there is. You’re a unicorn and the world needs you!”
Then Change for Kids took a chance on me as their leader to help change the education space for us all.
So don’t you stop working hard. It’ll pay off - I promise! I know this because I’ve lived it. And, don’t worry about paying for college: because you deserve it, because you’re majestic, because you’re magical, it’ll happen. You’re a unicorn and the world needs you!