Young, black, & educated: College & beyond

All my life, I’ve attended primarily white schools, and every seemingly simple task — from juggling classes and teachers and finding a friend group, to joining clubs and organizations that are a good fit — had a similar obstacle: entering spaces that have a smaller black population. The majority always has a preconceived notion of you, whether they intend to or not. The stock version of a black person hasn’t changed much since it first came about, and seeing a black face at a prestigious university turns heads for that very reason.

“How did a lazy, loud, uneducated, low-class kid make it into a campus of this stature? It’s gotta be all affirmative action, right? Not a chance they actually have the credentials to make it here.” This dialogue may seem extreme, but it’s a real one that is quietly had by more people than we may want to admit. How do you make it in a place where the mass’ opinions of you are so strong that they take over before you even have a chance to make a name for yourself?

As a soon-to-be HBCU student, many of the struggles I’ve faced in school, though they won’t be completely dissipated, will be significantly lessened. At the same time, the opportunities awarded to me previously will not come as easy in college. In the past, to even be considered top-tier amongst my peers, I had to put in double the effort in all aspects of my education. Keeping the same B or C-average, holding the same amount of leadership roles, or participating in similar extracurricular activities was not enough for me to stand on the same level as the non-black students around me. Seeing so many–frankly–less-than-worthy peers put at the forefront of the few groups that played such a big role in representing my school was painful, especially knowing that there were far more deserving candidates that were either beat out or didn’t even bother trying their hands. Despite the feelings of discouragement this rendered, I came to the conclusion that the only way to get ahead was by making my own opportunities and my own spaces to showcase my talents. Instead of aiming for the typical student government-athlete-honors combo, I made impact through my writing and starting a school organization to advocate for a cause with personal meaning to me–cultural acceptance. The shock of a student with my demographics unconventionally reaching such high levels of success came with extensive accolades, as sort of a package deal. We often only think of our blackness as an aspect that hinders our ability to progress in most spaces, but interestingly enough, in combination with my drive, it gave me a unique advantage: I represented a minority in a positive light, which made each school I attended look just a bit better.  

On the other hand, taking on such a large responsibility (and having no choice in the matter) can be overwhelming; although I didn’t realize it before, I’m sure that many of the people I encountered throughout my educational journey had not seen or expected someone of my background to be so “bright.” Making the transition to an HBCU for the next four years will be a bit of a (positive) culture shock. One of the things that set me apart the most will begin to do the very opposite. I’ll no longer be the bearer of that “token black” title, which will allow, or force, my accomplishments to shine on their own.

There have been a plethora of additional realizations that led to me choosing the post-high school path that I did, but one thing that stands out is this: even being on a campus full of people with many different hometowns and hobbies, that basic understanding and sharing of our experience in the “outside world” remains, and it brings us together on a level that I believe cannot truly be met with a non-black person.  

Once August hits and we finally reach move-in season, I’ll be spending my final moments as a full-time resident of my family household. A new sense of maturity will wash over, as I’ll be (almost) 100 percent responsible for myself and my success moving forward. I just left the top of the pyramid in high school, only to be starting at the bottom at a new institution. This is only one of the dichotomies that I and my fellow black peers experience during this time in our lives. Another is encountered as we take our first steps into the professional world; we’re given opportunities based off of accomplishments both in and out of the classroom, but simultaneously, our presence is still seen as an “annoying buzz” in the ears of many different circles. Are we adults or children, positive additions or nuisances? Starting early on in our young adult years, floating around in all of these emotional limbos seems to have simply become a part of our coming-of-age journeys.

As I prepare to enter what we call “the real world,” I think about how I can apply the small amount of knowledge and experience I do have to this new environment. Being a minority, as well as being a woman, it’s naive to think I’ll be able to navigate the world in the same way black men or non-black women do. Transitioning to college and the adult world in general, for us, is more than just learning taxes, job interview preparations, and all other basic grown-up tasks. There’s an asterisk to every aspect of adulthood that we have to make ourselves aware of and commit to memory in order to make it in most circles. We leave our homes in the fall, expecting the same amount of support we get from our parents to be shown once we get to school, but the realities we’ll be facing are much tougher. Unfortunate, but despite this and other inherent obstacles that come as side effects of my identity in this country, I feel about as prepared as I can without a rulebook to go off of.

In relation to my future, I only technically know where I’m going. I may have declared a major, set my heart on a profession, picked out my dream home, and named my future family dog—this is all well and good, but what’s next is ultimately still unknown. Life in general is just one of things you can only decode in action, and we’re all trying to figure out this strange, newfound adult/childhood chapter in each of ours.

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