Tag Archives: North Seattle Community College

A Prisoner on the Streets of America

I am a true renaissance man and I have experienced so many forms of life and held so many positions or roles that it is difficult to narrow my thinking down to one foundational experience that has shaped and influenced my life. I died in a car accident when I was seven years old and the outcomes of being brought back to life and my faculties resulted in every person who was close to me expressing that I had a great role to fulfill on Earth.

I grew up in rough, alcoholic, and often violent home when I was younger and this heavily shaped my perception of poverty, addiction, relationships and vulnerability. My parents split when my mother had to flee from my father after he threatened to kill all of us before killing himself. That morning was the last time I ever saw my father and that definitely had a major influence on my life. The only place my family could flee to were areas in Oregon where my brother and I were the only black students in the schools. This was at a time that Oregon still had a prohibition in its State Constitution stating that Oregon was to be a white utopia and that black people were not permitted to settle within the limits of the state. Those experiences definitely shaped my perception of the world and my life. When we finally escaped the racist treatment of the people in Oregon, we moved to the Central District in Seattle where my brother and I, being tri-racial and coming directly from an all-white area lacked much of the social capital needed to be accepted by the black community in Seattle and found ourselves ostracized as outsiders. Those experiences also shaped my perception and influenced my life.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself indoctrinated into gang-life, criminal activity, and drugs. As a result of my behaviors, I spent a lot of time incarcerated and even went to juvenile prison for an extended period of time. It was there that I began to write poetry, which later in my life would lead me to being a spoken word and hip hop artist and being named Renaissance the Poet. After I was released from their prison, I was not able to shake the gang or the drugs, but the poetry stuck with me. On my eighteenth birthday I was given a drug called ecstasy, and under its influence was when I had my first experience with god. That experience caused me to leave the gang and the drugs alone and before I knew it, I had walked across the country from Washington to Massachusetts where I joined and became a priest in a cult.

I stayed with them for the better part of a year before I was able to escape from the mental imprisonment and the only method I knew to shut out the demons swirling in my head was to use drugs and alcohol to silence them. However, when I found myself back in Seattle I was ensnared by the chains of addiction once again and when the excitement of my return wore off, all of my family and friend severed their ties with me. I was left homeless, without prospects, and alone. Worst of all, the drugs were no longer working to silence the demons swirling in my head and a deep depression set in. After giving up everything I thought I was supposed to give up for god I felt truly alone because to me at the time that not even god could save me from myself.

Without anything else holding me to the planet or the people on it, I decided to take my own life by jumping off the Aurora Bridge. However, while I was walking to the bridge from Lake City, a lesson I head while I was in prison came back to me. There was an O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago that came to visit us and he told us that strangely, he discovered that he felt more free when locked-up, and more of a prisoner when he was on the streets. At the time I heard him say that, I thought he was out of his mind, but as I became a victim of the streets and was on my way to end my life I finally understood what he meant so many years earlier. Aside from having my liberty taken from me, the single other largest factor to the peace I felt while I was in prison was that I was not using drugs. So, while I was on my way to the bridge I decided to call the emergency services and with the direction they gave me while they treated me overnight in a few short weeks I was able to find my way into a chemical abuse treatment facility, which changed my life forever. I have been sober ever since and I have never felt as hopeless as I did that night I walked to the bridge to end my suffering.

Getting sober did not solve all the problems I had in my life, but it did provide me with the tools to access a level of peace necessary to confront those problems. I had four felonies and several misdemeanors on my criminal record. Furthermore, I had failed high school and at the current standing when I left, I was a 0.0 GPA student. I had no place to call home, no friends, and my family wanted nothing to do with me. I was able to gain access to a half-way house for people in transition from institutions and shortly after I began living there I woke up to the news of 9/11. I did not know it when I moved in, but the house was run by a Mormon church, and while there is nothing wrong with helping the community, I had a hard time coping because of my experience with the cult I was in; there were too many similarities. Then given the factors of my history that were barring me from both employment and education, I decided to go to a Job Corps facility.

If there was any experience in my life that I believe really set the stage for the man I was to become, then it was my experience at Tongue Point Job Corps Center in Astoria Oregon because it was there that I learned that I as an individual could have a positive impact in the lives of the people around me. Job Corps used to provide a bi-weekly allowance for the students that lived on campus, but that stipend was very limited. However, students could get a job to subsidize the funds they were lacking and I was encouraged to become part of the student government. I did and within a few months I had worked my way up the being the student body president of the facility. Aside from providing for the extracurricular activities for my fellow students we also challenged microagressions and negative stereotypes, although, at the time I did not know that is what we were doing. We challenged the center’s policy on sagging pants and how it related to the administration’s and staff’s perceptions of black youth who sagged their pants. I sagged my pants at the time and I was the president. More important, it was the issue that the students wanted me to bring up and fight for them.

While at the job corps facility I earned my G.E.D., my high school diploma, and printing apprentice certificate, and even started college. My goal for attending college was to go into law school, become a lawyer, then enter into politics and eventually become the president. It was a mixture between my experience at Job Corps being the president and a class I had in when Mr. Mollette my high school history teacher that told me that any American citizen could become president, one of the days that I passed through his class. I dropped out of school a few quarters after beginning and returned to Seattle thinking that I would get into college, but that was much easier said than done. My criminal record from when I was a juvenile still haunted me and I was barred from employment in most establishments.

I gave up on the idea of ever being able to afford college and found myself working in a used retail store for about a year when I began my journey into construction work. A man I met started hiring me on weekends to do odds and ends for him and paid me well. Then he brought me on as his first full time employee and decided that I would become his apprentice and eventually buy him out and take over the company. Within a few years I had become a professional heavy equipment operator, pipe-layer, estimator, and project manage and then I became a partner in the developing construction company negotiating contracts with Mid Mountain Contractors, Turner Construction, King County, and the City of Seattle.

During this time with the construction company I also started, hosted and ran the Cornerstone Open Mic & Artist Showcase, a hip hop and spoken word open mic that happen monthly at the Fair Gallery and Café on Capital Hill in Seattle, with my best friend and adopted brother Marcus Hoy. Mark Hoy and Sean Stuart are the people who named me Renaissance the Poet, because of the rollercoaster life I had lived prior to meeting them and the skill I had with poetry. The Cornerstone, as it became known, was a hub for revolutionary minded poets and artists from around the Puget Sound area where we discussed and challenged some of the most disparaging issues confronting our generation, such as, patriarchy, sexism, racism, and state control of citizens. Some of us may have been revolutionaries and activists at the time, but for the most part we were simply artists learning how to exercise our minds and our voices while we were learning how to exist and survive in the world we were all born into. In the more than five years that we hosted the Cornerstone, there was not one fight, and this was nearly unheard of for any hip hop venue anywhere at the time. Many relationships were forged there and the underground cultural element of resistance and justice was kept alive and fostered.

In 2010, our company won the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business “Minority Business of the Year” award. However, I always felt that I had missed my true calling to fulfill a great role on earth and thought that becoming a lawyer was the method I was supposed to take to achieve that role. In 2008, the economy spun on its head and we went into a dire recession that put a lot of pressure on our company. In 2011, a couple years after I had destroyed my knee mentoring some youth with the organization called TSB, the Service Board, battling to keep our business afloat and continuing to damage my knee, I realized that construction was never a trade I wanted to be in and decided to do whatever it took to go to college. So, I left R.J. Richards CE LLC and enrolled in North Seattle Community College (NSCC).

Somehow and somewhere along the line I had gotten this plan for my life and what I was supposed to do with it embedded into my head. I am going to write a new socioeconomic system for the entire planet that is environmentally sound, socially just, and equitable for all; and I am going to see it implemented before the day I die. I began studying history, philosophy, economics, sociology, psychology, biology and mathematics and my understanding of the world exploded my perceptions of humanity and the insurmountable character of my goal. That is when I became involved with another student government and I was brought in as the Student Fee Board Coordinator, which was the treasurer for the college. To do that job I had to study the Washington State laws associated with public monies and student fees, and to study ethics because I had to select and train a board and we were going to have to make tough ethical decision. Before that I knew being part of the government enabled me to have a lot positive influence in the lives of marginalized people from my experience at Job Corps. However, I never fully grasped how much power the United States Congress has on the lives of every citizen in the United States until I was given a smaller, yet similar role. People can design all the best programs in the world, but if they do not have the funds to get them started and to maintain them, then they may often never be able to achieve the goals of their programs.

At this time OCCUPY was challenging the corporate structure and control of people’s lives worldwide after the economic collapse in 2008. Like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about the white clergy who questioned the movement while he was in the Birmingham jail during Project Confrontation, I agreed with their aims, but I disagreed with their methods. I disagreed with the mostly because I did not comprehend how they could be successful. It was a leaderless movement with demands that ran the spectrum. At the time it seemed to me that the movement lacked the necessary cohesion to achieve its aims. It was not that I disagreed with any of the demands. To the contrary, I believed that all of the things people were asking for should be achieved. My issue at the time was that I thought they could achieve more of their demands if they focused on them one or few at a time. I did not get involved with the movement because I did not understand it.

In 2013 I graduated from NSCC and had been accepted to the University of Washington (UW). When I first started at NSCC I thought that I would enter into the Law, Societies, and Justice program at UW, but by the time I entered the university I had settled on double-majoring in history and philosophy. I was still intent on progressing onto law school. I thought getting a good background in reading and research, with training in analysis, which the discipline of history would provide me with would be helpful in this regard. I thought having a strong understanding of morality and ethics, and the philosophical frameworks they are grounded in, plus developing my argumentative skills, which the discipline of philosophy would provide would further prepare me for law school and the work ahead of me. My ethical training began with a look at global justice, which confronted issues such as poverty, hunger, gendered vulnerability, social contracts, state legitimacy, climate change, immigration and feudal privilege, and many forms of oppression. It was these arguments about justice, which is to provide for that which promotes most the flourishing of all human beings, not the interpretation of it as punishment common in the United States that exposed me to the concepts of obligation and responsibility. History provided me with a lens into why these conditions exist and what factors led them to come into being. The courses at UW changed the way I envision my role in the world and I began to feel an immediate responsibility and obligation to use the knowledge and wisdom I had to benefit people.

During the summer of 2013, Sarra Tekola, my partner in life, brought me to my very first protest. We traveled down to the Columbia River on the border of Washington and Oregon States to participate in the Portland Rising Tide opposition to the coal and oil that were being shipped from the west coast to China. At the time, Sarra was an Environmental Science major at UW and part of the Divest University of Washington coalition and she schooled me on how important the issue of climate change was to our survival as a species. She also hipped me to the fact that people of color worldwide are the not only the first impacted by the effects of climate change, but are also the most impacted by it as well. She informed me that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of the best and brightest scientists on the planet determined that if we as a civilization burn enough carbon to increase the temperature of the planet by two degrees Celsius cumulatively, we will enter into a negative feedback loop of destruction that we will not be able to recover from. Desertification will destroy once plush and arid farm lands, like what had happened to her father’s people in Ethiopia. Melting polar ice caps will submerge places like the Philippines displacing millions, many of whom will die in the process. So, it was important to protest the extraction and transportation of carbon producing materials for everyone on the planet, but especially for people of color because people of color have nest to no power in the decision making circles like the U.S. Congress and the United Nations. It was scary and every moment I thought I was going to be arrested. Canoes spread across the river to block any ships and people spanned the bridge above holding signs, while a group rappelled off the bridge to display a huge banner. We did not stop the extraction or transportation of fossil fuel materials that day, but it felt good making a stand with like-minded people for the sake of justice.

The summer of 2014 I went to Greece with the Jackson School of International Studies (JSIS) of UW to conduct research on immigration. I thought my time in Greece would help me to work on the issues surrounding immigration in the United States. Greece had been suffering from a major recession for several years and was also experiencing a major influx of people from the Middle East and the African continent. Most of the migrants were fleeing from deplorable situations and most did not intend for Greece to be their final destination, many wanted to continue onto other European Union (EU) nations. Greece was the entry point by both water and land into the EU for many migrants. However, the EU had tightened its policy on migrants and because of the Dublin II Regulation, the EU was returning any migrant discovered in any country to the country they entered into the EU at to process their applications of asylum. In addition to the recession, and the lack of financial assistance from the EU for both the residents of the country and the new influx of immigrants, there was also a nationalist and xenophobic organization oppressing the immigrants named Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn was a two-winged organization like the Dixiecrats of the South because they had nineteen percent of the parliamentary seats in Greece, in coordination with an organization like the Ku Klux Klan because they had a grassroots physically repressive regime harming immigrants. Immigration could be studied in any country in the world, but the particular set of conditions in Greece enabled us to observe the systematic denial of almost every singly right it is commonly agreed that people inherently possess simply for the sake of being human.

My second night in Greece at the American College of Greece dorm that UW has a satellite facility, I was taking a smoke break in the smoking section when for officers on two motor cycles turned the corner and immediately jumped off their bikes and pointed assault rifles at me simply because I am a black man. This may seem like a strange assertion until you have been to Athens, Greece and become acquainted with the reality that millions of people smoke and because of the smoldering heat that many people are out on the streets at night. There was nothing about me or what I was doing that was out of place except for the color of my skin. Luckily, I had my passport on me at that particular moment and I was saved from being hauled off into one of their immigration prisons. Their whole attitude toward me shifted as soon as they discovered I was an American, but until that moment I felt as though they regarded me as less than the mud on their boots would have shot me just to get a laugh. It was not until I hung out with an enterprising group of migrants from all over Africa in Monostraki Square—an electric flee market—and spending time with a parliamentary member that I learned Greece was a police state, and that the police had the authority to act independently of the government. I heard stories of how the police would select a street that migrants were known to frequent, then would block the exits, beat all the people of color and then imprison them. I spent most of my time in Greece terrified for my life from both the police and Golden Dawn because I did not have the social networks or rights that I had back in the United States. However, two nights before we left Greece I received word about the execution of Michal Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by officer Daren Wilson and I knew there was no escape from state sanctioned or permitted violence.

The O.G. Vice Lord’s words came back to me and kept playing over and over in my head about how we are prisoners on the streets. Being a black man in America I exist as W.E.B. Du Bois mentions, with a “double-consciousness,” constantly viewing myself from two lenses; I experience myself as a man, and I am also always conscious of my status as a “black” man as viewed by white Americans. People of color in the United States suffer from dire economic sanctions which impose poverty upon us with a capitalistic system and an ideological framework of individualism. The system of oppression is held in place through red lining, the regressive tax system, voter disenfranchisement, poor education, and limited access to capital. Until I began researching the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP), I did not understand why many of the people I grew up with ended up in prison or dead, or locked in the revolving trap of poverty. I did not understand or even know about the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) or how it was linked to the Military Industrial Complex (MIC).  I had learned, like most people are taught that Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution ended slavery. However, what they do not teach is that slavery was abolished “except” in the case that a person is convicted of a crime. From that debt peonage and convict leasing emerged and over time prison slavery became a huge industry in the United States to the point that now America which has five percent of the world’s population also warehouses twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. The largest consumer of prison labor in the United States is the U.S. Department of Defense, a.k.a., the MIC.  But prisoners also fabricate furniture and produce paint and clothing for many companies. Prison labor subsidizes many industries that otherwise would be too expensive to conduct in the United States, industries that create products other countries would have a comparative advantage producing. Prisons are an oasis for profit that is garnered from the exploitation of millions and that also disproportionately disparages communities of color.

Applying the aforementioned information about the PIC to the statistics about the rates of suspension, expulsion, and incarceration of the youth of color in the U.S. the School-to-Prison Pipeline began to make a lot more sense. Black children and children of people of color are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school. From the ninth grade on, one suspension or expulsion makes them fifty percent more likely to be incarcerated. After these children are incarcerated they become seventy-five percent more likely to enter the adult penitentiary system with prison slave labor, and over eighty-five percent likely to remain trapped in recidivism for the rest of their lives, in addition to their being disenfranchised from their first incarceration in accordance with the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of all these factors is a phenomenon known as Institutional Racism/Discrimination that permeates America’s society and institutions. The police and prosecuting attorneys have been granted arbitrary discretionary power and legal protections to act with impunity in its dealing with citizens. So, in toto, the U.S. Department of Justice with all its subsidiary prisons and law enforcement agencies when stripped of its colorful and well-sounding appeals to justice and order dissolves to a system of oppression, suppression, and exploitation.  With this understanding of the ‘criminal justice’ system in the United States, the fact that most of the people I grew up with wound up in the negative feedback loop of poverty and exploitation, or how and why Michael Brown’s executioner was able to commit the atrocity with impunity were no longer mysterious to me. We, being people of color, whom at any time can have our very lives stripped from us because the laws of this country deny that we have a right to life, are prisoners on the streets of America.

Therefore, when I returned from Greece and Black Lives Matter, which was started by Alicia Garza after the assassination of Trevon Martin in 2012, decided to organize and protest the abuses of law enforcement and for justice in the Michael Brown execution, given my sense of responsibility and obligation to use the knowledge and wisdom I had to the benefit people of my community, I joined the movement for Black Liberation. My participation in the movement has taken many forms over the last year reaching from protests, to arrests, to testifying at Seattle City Hall and King County Metropolitan Council chambers, to giving a speech to Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee. All the while I was still a student at UW continuing to learn about the system we live in and the factors that helped to created it. My academic pursuits definitely suffered when I became involved in the movement because my time became divided, but that does not mean I have not continued to be successful. I highly doubt that I will be selected as the valedictorian as I was when I graduated from NSCC, but I nonetheless, have managed to maintain a very strong GPA given all of my community activity. However, that has no longer been my primary objective. I have used my education to learn what happened during previous social movements and struggles and I now understand the importance of a leaderless movement and demands that are specific to the regions they are made. I have learned precisely what I did not understand about the OCCUPY movement. There are some similar macro-problems, such as racism and institutional discrimination that people of color suffer everywhere, but those problems are expressed differently in different places. Furthermore, there is a history of the U.S. Department of Justice, through programs like COINTELPRO under the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that systematically destroyed activists and Civil Rights organizations in the 1960s and 70s.

I have lived one incredible, rollercoaster of a life that has made me a jack of all trades, and a true renaissance man. At no time have I ever known where one event would lead me. And looking back it is very difficult to pinpoint any one specific event that shaped me into the man that I am or the man I am becoming. Taken out of context, none of the major shifts or events in my life will tell anyone very much about me, who I am, or why I do the things I do. But the words of the O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago that I met while locked up have been with me since then. There is something very wrong with feeling like and being a prisoner on our own streets. A place where one might think epitomized the essence freedom. That contradiction of beliefs filled my soul with dissonance and it reverberated through all of my life-experiences until it shook loose the warrior in me. Renaissance means to revitalize, or to bring new life. The system we live in has become a runaway train that no one seems to know how to stop or get off of, and what we need is to breathe new life into our civilization. We need a new system of values and an expanded conception of “we” that signifies, represents, and displays through action that we and our planet are all connected and intersecting components of our world organism. Each and every one is vital. No one is expendable. We all have our roles to fulfill on Earth. We are all responsible.

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Bridging Community

As it stands now there are approximately 7.3 billion people on the planet who identify with many different religions, nationalities, countries, cultures, economic systems, family structures, political ideologies, and tastes.  The United Nations predicts that by the year 2050 there will be over 9.7 billion people on the earth. To put that figure into perspective because just hearing the difference between seven and nine makes it seem miniscule; that is over eight times the current United States population. People in Seattle, Washington can barely afford their rents as it is now and if we are still following the same supply and demand, ‘invisible hand’ economics that are in effect today, I dread being alive to see the horrendous conditions that are in store for us. It is already being reported that wage gaps this large between the rich and the poor have not been witnessed since the fall of the Roman Empire and it is increasing at an exponential rate.

As if matters were not bad enough with only the population explosion, in addition to that is also the vast environmental degradation and destruction, which is increasingly causing our planet to become uninhabitable. The cumulative impacts of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere from our collective consumption of fossil fuels in our combustion vehicles, coal fire power plants, fracking plants, and oil burning are occurring simultaneously with the eradication of our forests that are the natural carbon sinks that could have restored the planetary ecosystem to equilibrium. Thus, instead of there being a fluid and efficient carbon cycle, the carbon our practices are releasing is getting stuck in the atmosphere, our public good, which traps in the heat from our Sun and leads to global warming. Global warming and climate change are natural occurrences, scientists and archeologists have confirmed this unequivocally. However, historically speaking, since the Industrial Revolution began in the 19th Century, human ingenuity has dramatically shifted the rate at which the natural process of climate change is occurring.

The net results stretch from rising sea levels to desertification of once arable land, of which the former is leading to the submersion of many inhabited regions and the latter is leading to famines and wars over limited resources. Furthermore, both are factors in mass migrations and the global apartheid unfolding before our very eyes. Take the migration crisis in Europe for instance, those people are fleeing from war and famine torn regions in the Middle East and Africa, fleeing over both land and water risking dehydration, starvation, death of both themselves and their families, or eternal isolation because those risks are more acceptable in comparison to the conditions they would otherwise suffer. The only difference between them and us is quite honestly, where we were all born and when. Yet, the massive influx of people has caused a panic among the peoples and the governments of the receiving nations who are ‘protecting’ their interests with sanctions, gates, walls, and brute military force to keep the migrators out. Ann Coulter, opening for presidential candidate Donald Trump at a convention said: “I love the idea of the Great Wall of Trump. I want to have a two drink minimum. Make it a big worldwide tourist attraction and every day, live drone shows whenever anyone tries to cross the border.” She was talking about making a spectacle of killing people—in this case from Mexico—looking to improve their life-conditions and life-chances, and these are Americans that we are talking about, and people who want to be at the head of the United States, no less. So, it is not the case that the issue is only something that happens abroad. Notwithstanding where it occurs, this is what is called, Feudal Privilege, because there is nothing that any of us did prior to any of our being born that justifies any of us possessing access to the necessities for life while others do not, and yet, we do possess those necessities, nonetheless. Our borders are symbolic extensions of the castle walls that once separated the affluent from the peasant, what was once called a birth right.

Making the situation even more complicated is the fact that the environmental degradation and destruction that is leading to these mass migrations from the less affluent nations and states, is a direct result of the practices of the more affluent nations. In the United States, based on our consumption rates cumulatively, it would take four and a half entire earth’s worth of resources to fulfill the demand if everyone on the planet today in all the states consumed as US citizens do. That is, US citizens have a carbon footprint of four and a half earths, while those in less affluent regions, like much of the African continent has a carbon footprint of less than one earth. Thereby resting the responsibility for the increased rate of global warming and climate change causing the rising tides and famines squarely in the hands of those from the more affluent nations; primarily, Western Civilization, where many of the migrators are seeking refuge and are being barred access to. Furthermore, at the moment we are only talking about millions of people migrating, and the people and governments from the more affluent nations are in a panic. However, this is nothing compared to the over two billion increase in population projected for 2050 while the environmental ecosystem collapse is exacerbated at the same time.

This is a huge problem, I know. A problem so large that it does not seem like there is a solution to it. But I think the heart of the issue resides within our definition of community: “A social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.”  More important than this characteristic of the definition of community, is that implicit in the definition and the common understanding of the concept is the multiplicity of communities as being distinct from one another, or in other words, different or separate from each other. And therein is the crux of the problem. This notion of distinctness is what maintains the separation between the sexes, and genders, between the social-construction of races, ethnicities, nationalities—which is different from the arbitrary political boundaries—of people, between states, social classes, and so forth.  The notion of distinctness is what was at the foundation of slavery, the Jim Crow segregation that led to the Civil Rights Era of the mid-20th Century and to the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the New Jim Crow and state sanctioned violence in the form of police brutality. Inherent in racism is the notion of distinctness and scientific racism gave it fangs. Social Darwinism and the concept of “survival of the fittest” are both laden with the notion of distinctness and provide a quasi, but fallacious justification for acting on that distinctness.

We are inundated with this notion of distinctness each and every time we are told that we are individuals and that we have to achieve on our own.  Our society and our complete set of ideologies are designed to isolate people from one another, to put us into competition, and to set us at odds with each other. Take the grading system for example, instead of the entire class being graded collectively on the achievements of the group, individuals are rewarded or punished for their own merits. This is the case even though they all participate in the class collectively and it provides the incentive for students not to have as heightened of an interest in assisting their fellow classmates. It’s as if we were to somehow conceive of ourselves as something other than individuals that our personal identities would somehow dissolve into nothingness, but I believe this to be an unjustifiable fear. Nonetheless, as a result of this distinctness and individuality, we humans love to categorize ourselves; black, white, rich, poor, tall, short, German, Peruvian, smart, ignorant, man, woman, felon, law abiding citizen, alien, but therein between the categories is where most of the strife among and “between” us emerges.   Because with the distinctions comes an arbitrary system of hierarchical valuations and judgments that result in hyperbole and humiliations that provide reasons for segregation and delineation.

This individualistic conception destroys our relationships with our selves, other people and with the earth, of which we are not truly separate.  If there was not an earth, then humans as we understand our selves could not exist. The earth on the other hand, existed long before the human species and will most likely exist long after our species has vanished. Relationships are the key to community and to healing the ills of our civilization. Relation is the characteristic that is missing from the definition of community and culture, which emerges within and through a community, as a strategy for survival and as such, it is utterly dependent upon relationships. The reality is that we can do nothing alone and that there is no such thing as individuality. The words “alone” and “individual” are components of a language, that by its very definition necessitates a relationship because for communication to exist at least two parties must agree that a particular symbol will have a particular meaning that is transmittable. That is a relationship and without it there could be no culture to transmit to subsequent generations; there would be no commerce, no morality, no religion if there no people who formed instructional relationships with us. By corollary, there would be no societies, no cities, no schools, no families, and no identities. Relationships are at the core of everything it means to be human as we currently understand ourselves to be.

Our first relationship is with ourselves, but that relationship can only be understood and fully appreciated in the context of every other human that exists and that has ever existed, and on the context of the earth upon which we exist and rely with all the millions of other species. The individual does not exist in isolation, the individual is not a microcosm, but exists in relation to everything else that exists.  John Donne said it best and most simply; “No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.” Until this is understood there can be no relationship with ourselves because we do not fully grasp who we truly are. And if we do not know who we are, then we cannot transmit ourselves to another because we cannot convey a concept we do not fully comprehend. Thus, until we know ourselves, we cannot have relationships with other human beings, who in essence are of us and we are also of them. And lastly, without that comprehension and feeling, then there can be no relationship with the earth, which connects and sustains us all. This is how the ideology of individualism corrupts and destroys our relationships.

We have to expand our sense of community to recognize, appreciate, and incorporate the entire planet and all the things that exist upon it and in relation to it. Only then, will something like the atmosphere, a public good, something that we all own, have claim to, and are part of, become something that we cherish and love enough not to destroy. Only when we understand that the rainforest are not distinct from us, will we acknowledge that destroying them is in reality, destroying ourselves. Only when we comprehend that all the people on the planet are part of us and that the arbitrary valuations and judgments we currently attribute to them is wrong, will we begin to acknowledge the injustice of segregation and apartheid, murder and isolation. Much like the contemporary interpretation of the identity of a person can exist within the colloquial sense of a community, so too, can identity groups exist within this expanded conception of community. In fact, these identity groups are vital to the evolution of our culture and must exist, because the supposition that there is but one community does not presuppose the presence of a negative peace, which is the absence of conflict, but a positive peace in which the necessary tension required for growth and stimulation flourishes. That is the essence of relationships: gravitational and repulsive forces that continuously interact to maintain balance and harmony in relation to everything else that exists.

If we want to bridge communities and to foster a peace full of symbiotic mutually beneficial relations, then it is necessary to recognize that there is only one community and category that is of any import, the Human Identity Group within the Community of the Earth.

Trust is an Issue

It makes it hard to trust even people from within our own communities sometimes when this country trains people to be cutthroats to survive. But, because we want to believe in our people we lower our defenses and give them the benefit of the doubt, hoping against hope that this time we will not be burned, doing our best not to guilt them with the harms done by others in the past. There is goodness in everyone’s heart, no matter how hard it is to find, it is there nonetheless. The question is; do we have the desire to find it and to draw it out if need be? Because they may also not be used to exposing their vulnerability in this violent world, so used to being burned by others. We have to make ourselves trustworthy as well. One person, one heart at a time we can pull apart this faulty system of indoctrination to establish a new tribe of humanity.

Why I Be

Diggin in the trenches
Flipping over benches
Running through Seattle
Cuz, I aim to make a difference

Marching up these Streets
Rapping on these Beats
Pouring through these books
And my words come with heat

Speakin at the Council
Chillin at the Town Hall
Repping our People
Bouncin to throw my hands up

Teaching youth the answer
Fighting cops like cancer
Questioning the system
And how it loves to pander

Reeling at rejection
Feeling insurrection
Cuz they hear nothing
And recoil from inspection

Retaliate with weapons
Paid for with our taxes
They forget to ask us
want bullets in our asses

Went from hoses to mace
suppression the case
The same as the 60s
& We still up in they face

My people unstoppable
Success more than probable
Tearing down this Jim Crow
First thing that’s gotta go!

Collegiate Rapper ((Rappers = Nerds))

https://soundcloud.com/renaissance-the-poet/collegiate-rapper

New track from the “Rappers = Nerds” project, ‘Collegiate Rapper’ byRenaissance The Poet a student at the University of Washington and prior co-creator and co-host of The Cornerstone Open Mic & Artist Showcase.

This project is about building the community, and empowering ourselves through education and this song is about the struggle a young minority faces while dealing with the system of higher education.

Project Info:

https://renaissancethepoet.wordpress.com/music-and-poetry/
For some background on the song check out:

https://renaissancethepoet.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/reflections-of-my-first-quarter-at-the-university-of-washington/

Song Lyrics

 Verse #1

Started on this track, way back, but never thought I’d make it

Pain is over-rated, fated, to be illustrated

So to demonstrate it, the facts originated,

Inside the heart of a mind, addicted to rhyme, that’ll never be faded

See, seein ain’t believing, but reason the season needed

Feed it, like a stomach and read it until defeated

Would ya believe it, I succeeded?

 Beat it, and now it’s more that I’m needin?

Feanin for readin like treasures or women, shit, I’m a heathen!  I’m breathin

Dreamin, while feadin off demons

gleamin  the realist of feelins

As They, surface to meanings,

I mean I’m seein the end

as I be turnin the bend

Of desire, fires of love

burn inside of this man

 Passion’s more than enough, to accomplish my plan

My Intellect sure helps, as I seek to expand

the limits, and the boarders, of all that I am

As a Rapper and a Poet with a Bachelor’s in Hand

Verse #2

Who’d have thought, who not, that I would go to college

Go to get that knowledge, polished, rivalin scholars

Spendin all them dollars, to rise up out the garbage

The steep end of the heap, deep, leaping from the trenches of Martyrs

Me, never thought I’d see it, sobeit that I’m not dreamin

See it, I’m in these classes, & I, still hardly believe it

But must concede it, In to the Realist

Chapter of my life, and into the illist, challenges, so fearless,

But Humility the dearest

Because, when it comes to the task,

alone is a mask, that’s worn in a dash,

the rash are reluctant to ask, for help in a smash

but how are they goona pass their classes

When they’re movin so fast, they can’t, hold onto their asses

the masses drownin , assignments are mountain

& he with the skill surpasses

Expectations, foresight insufficient to displace this

Boils down to relations, and who we orbit in these space ships

Cause this is a foreign land, for a man, who should be in prison

Not at the UW, doing the best that he can, to earn degrees,

Can you feel this?

 Verse #3

I walked into school, cool, with one goal to find

Earn a Law Degree, complete, with an opened mind

Shatter the glass ceiling, pealing, the feelings denied

Breaking the cycle, inventing the Michael, and vetting out all of the lies

Free, or so I thought, the plot, coined me enemy

I’m black, and I rap, that there, the center piece

Of their argument, I must be ignorant, try’n to be

& try’n to see, more than was destined to me, more than being a thug in the streets

But why, supply the American Dream

If the plan was to hold it from me

But they don’t understand that I walk with a team

Composed of friends and family

Who will never see me fail

cuz  I fight for them like they fight for me

and together, we trudge this hell

So, no I won’t be giving up

Renaissance ain’t had enough

Graduating Valedictorian, just the beginning of

My struggle to become a lawyer

at the UW

A dream once impossible

A crude bluff

Chorus:

Dreams, are how it all begins

Dreams, are what define the ends

Dreams, are not just latent plans

Dreams, are what define the man

Reflections of My First Quarter at the University of Washington

Regardless of how impossible the achievement of my dreams seems at times I have found that my fears are often not based in reality. The reality is that, yes it is true that, our world is full of hardships and even set-backs, but it is also true that I have been granted everything that I need to overcome those obstacles. The sobering reality lay also in the fact that even though I have been granted everything I need to overcome any and all obstacles that are set before me, that I still forget it from time to time and find myself wallowing in self-doubt, remorse, self-pity and shame as if I, Michael Anthony Moynihan was destined to be a failure. And no matter how much my brain may try to convince me of these things when times get rough and I am faced with hardships, it is simply not the case that I am destined to be a failure because I am meant for greatness and so are all of you.

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Quite some time ago I set out to record the experiences I have had while I trudge through the higher education system on my way to earning a Law degree for three reasons: (1) to process what I have been through; (2) so that I have a record of my experiences to refer back to; (3) and most importantly, so that I can share my hardships and successes with all of you who are either going through the same struggle that I am or you are interested in pursuing higher education and want to know what to expect and some tactics to meet with success. In this particular essay I will be analyzing my first quarter at the University of Washington, challenging the assumptions that I held when entering the school, exposing the difficulties that I met during the quarter and how they were overcome.

When I graduated from North Seattle Community College (NSCC) in June of 2013 with my Associate of Arts degree, and was honored as the valedictorian I thought I had this higher education thing figured out. Yet, when I got to the University of Washington (UW) I discovered that I was sadly mistaken. Now although my education at NSCC was and is an invaluable asset, and I definitely had to put every ounce of my being into successfully completing the program, I was not as prepared for the transition to university life as I thought. I had it worked into my head that I was going to carry the same success with the same techniques from community college into the university setting and that I was going to continue to earn the 4.0’s of which I had grown so accustomed. As Sarra Tekola, a seasoned student at the University of Washington in the Environmental Science program and an Audubon scholar, a UW Diversity merit scholar, and a McNair UNCF scholar put it:

“You cannot use the same strategies at the university level that you used at the community college level and expect to meet with the same level of success. You are going to have to adapt and it is not going to be easy, but I have no doubt that you will be able to handle it. Just remember, that if you were to just come to this school and start earning 4.0’s, then the school would not truly be challenging you and it would not be doing you any good. The fact that you are not earning 4.0’s, right now, is proof that you are being challenged so, do not be discouraged, all transfer students go through this their first quarter at the University of Washington, but we all also caught ahold of the ropes. You got this.”

Sarra_Envrionmental Science Major

Sarra said this to me when I came to her for advice halfway through the quarter and I was bashing my head against the wall in disgust at my apparent lack of ability to adapt. Advice that I desperately needed because I was just about ready to throw my hands up and call it quits. I assumed that I would not have to invest any more effort into my education at the UW than I had at NSCC, but that was not the case. Their expectations at the University of Washington are ten-fold what they were at my community college. I was expected to accomplish two to three times as much reading every week, on top of the assignments that were due, and to be able to comprehend the material and synthesize compelling arguments that compared and contrasted all the material covered throughout the quarter. In short, I was expected to have a complete and intimate understanding of all the material covered and to have it stored in memory for quick retrieval in practical application scenarios. I was not prepared for that, and as such, I was caught off guard and I felt unworthy because I was not performing at the level that I expected to be performing at. Miss Tekola’s words of encouragement and reassurance came at just the right time and told me precisely what I needed to hear: the UW is not community college and the same techniques that worked for me there will not work at the university level, but don’t give up because the first quarter is always the hardest, it is the transition period after which you will know what is expected of you and how to accomplish that.

The next major hurtle that I encountered centered primarily on other people’s opinions. It is true that I have just endorsed the opinions of Sarra Tekola, and although it may not be explicitly evident all the time, not everyone’s opinion, or rather not every opinion is of the same value. If it is the case that, you have wisely chosen the direction of your life, then it is not the case that, when you encounter hardships that opinions of encouragement and discouragement are of the same value. First of all, life is full of hardships and earning a degree is no exception to this fact. Second, and perhaps more important, is that opinions of discouragement dissuade us from accomplishing our goals, and if we are dissuaded from our goals then it may be the case that we accomplish nothing. While in contrast, opinions of encouragement will in times of despair, reinforce our own resolve to accomplish those goals. Thus, if the measure of other people’s opinions is measured in terms of whether or not they help us to achieve our goals, then not all opinions are of the same value and when we have justifiable goals, then encouraging opinions are to be valued above discouraging opinions. Tekola’s opinions were of the encouraging sort, so they are to be valued because they have helped me to achieve my goals; that is why I have endorsed her opinions.

However, when I began to have trouble during my first quarter at the University of Washington, in particular with the philosophy course that I was taking and I made mention of it, one of the major opinions I heard in response to my concerns was to “give up on philosophy”. And although I disagreed with this opinion entirely, if nothing has come through more clearly in my first course in philosophy then it is this: before an argument can be rejected, it must first be analyzed and then either one or all of the premises must be questioned and rejected or the reasoning drawn from the premises (the conclusion) must rejected, but it cannot be rejected on solely emotional grounds. The basic reason given for not pursuing a degree in philosophy was that they believed it to be a useless discipline, but I challenge that premise.

Before this quarter began I decided that I was going to major in both history and philosophy because they are two of the primary degrees that people get before going to law school. The history degree will teach me how to do research, which is what precedent law in America is all about, and it will also teach me how to analyze the documents that I uncover through my research, which is precisely what will be necessary to prove any case. The philosophy degree will teach me about moral and ethical frameworks, which are vitally necessary for the organization of humans in society and for the creation and interpretation of that society’s laws. It will also teach me how to analyze and to form arguments, which is an essential skill of a great lawyer. Thus, philosophy is not a useless discipline, at least not for me and my aims, or for anyone who intends to participate in law or politics in any measure.

The second and more troubling premise of the argument that was made for my giving up on philosophy was inherent in their assertions, though implicit in their arguments: if it is tough, and it since is unnecessary, then you should not do it. However, as I have shown philosophy is not an unnecessary discipline already, I will focus on the former portion of the claim, that “if it is tough… you should not do it.” If that assertion were true, then we would not have Olympic gold medalists, and nor would slavery have been abolished, nor would women have been enfranchised with the success of the suffrage movement. The list could go on ad infinitum, but I think that these examples make the point explicitly clear that some pursuit being tough does not justify not doing it.

Which brings us back to the initial assertion in this line of reasoning, “if it is the case that, you have wisely chosen the direction of your life, then it is not the case that, when you encounter hardships that opinions of encouragement and discouragement are of the same value.” I have shown that the reasoning behind my decision to pursue a degree in philosophy was sound, so it was not the case that I selected my classes poorly or that they did not fit within my overall objectives. And since I have also shown that the premises of the assertion that I “should give up on philosophy” are faulty, then it must also be the case that the conclusion is false. Since it is not the case that I should give up on philosophy, then it must be the case that the opinions of discouragement that were offered to me when I expressed dismay in my progress at the University of Washington are to be devalued because they do not help me to achieve my goals.

All of this reasoning has been accomplished in retrospect, but when I was in the middle of my last quarter it was not so clear and based on those opinions which would have derailed my progress, I almost decided to not continue my pursuit. That is the unfortunate outcome of discouragement and it is my belief that we may all be likely to encounter this type of thinking. The way I overcame this was to take more than a few moments of serious thought to discern what and why I was doing it, so I asked myself; “Why am I studying philosophy?” I have shown you the reasoning and the answer that came from that line of inquisition. This was a vital step, and though I did fully question and answer that question prior to my deciding to earn a philosophy degree, I did forget it once I was under the pressure of potentially failing one of my first courses at the University of Washington. Until this question was answered I could not discern which line of opinions, the encouragement or the discouragement was in my best interest and I was just as susceptible to be influenced by both because I could not assign value to either. That is why it is so important to take this step and evaluate why you are doing what you are doing, because we have to be able to evaluate the opinions that will flood our thoughts as we progress through our ambitions and we have to be able to discern which opinions to listen to and which opinions to disregard. To give the people who provided me with those discouraging opinions credit, if it had not been for them then I would not have question my actions for myself and I would not have come to the conclusion that I drew. And it was because I drew the conclusion that it was necessary for me to earn the philosophy degree that I am after that I started to value the encouraging opinions and reinforce my ambition to succeed with resolute determination to do so. This is why I endorsed Sarra Tekola’s opinions at the beginning of this paper and why what she said made such a difference in the outcome of my quarter.

100_7520

The outcome of the psychological battle that goes on in our own heads can make the difference between winning and losing, between success and failure, between achieving our goals and leaving empty handed. I have just detailed for all of you the primary aspects of the psychological battle that I went through last quarter and how with help, I was able to overcome it. But that was only the beginning. That victory had to be translated into action in order for me to meet with success. I had to reevaluate my approach to learning at the University of Washington and revise the techniques that worked for me at North Seattle Community College and I had to learn a new way to learn.

As I stated earlier: “I was expected to have a complete and intimate understanding of all the material covered and to have it stored in memory for quick retrieval in practical application scenarios.” Before I got to UW, it was sufficient for me to read a chapter once and incorporate 30% or so to memory taking only the key points with me. However, that method was inadequate for me at UW because my courses not only expected memorization, but also a deep comprehension of the material and a synthesis of my own opinions on what I read. Until I got to UW I did not know that there was a difference between rote memorization and comprehension or how important it was to distinguish between the two. For example, there is a big difference between memorizing the rules for how to manipulate an equation in algebra and applying those techniques to a word problem wherein one has to create an equation to solve the problem. Discerning the solution requires an intimate understanding of how the rules function and how they can be manipulated. Just as memorizing a specific equation would be inadequate for solving such a problem, so was just memorizing 30% or so of my philosophy book for synthesizing arguments in support of or against a particular philosopher or ideology. In short, there is a big difference between memorization and learning how to think for ourselves and that is what I was unprepared for when I began classes at the University of Washington.

100_7527

I quickly found that the method I had of reading through a chapter once was inadequate and in many cases I had to reread a chapter several times and even at times tear them apart line by line to achieve the level of understanding that was expected of me. To accomplish the transition from how I was reading to how I needed to read required an increased investment in the amount of time that I allotted to each chapter and a level of concentration higher than I was unaccustomed to. I cannot stress how important that extra investment has been to my understanding of the material and my ability to think about the things that I am learning. That was the key to success at the University of Washington. The primary difference I made by changing the amount of time I dedicated to each chapter was made to my understanding of each chapter. By spending longer in each chapter it allowed me the time necessary for me to actually think about the things that I was reading. And it was that thought process that allowed me not only to memorize the material I was expected to memorize but to also formulate my own thoughts on what I was reading. We cannot have thoughts about what we read if we do not think about what we read. I know that this may seem like a bit of common sense, but I assure that it was not for me. I had to learn that the hard way. What I have found is that people and particularly at the University of Washington are not as interested in what we read as they are in what we think about what we read. The same is true for society and that includes professional situations like politics. People want us to have an opinion, not simply to be academics who, are on the fence on important issues. In other words, people value our thoughts and it is our thoughts that are valuable.

The last major change to my learning process that I had to enact at the University of Washington was giving up on the concept that I can do everything alone. I do not like to depend on other people and I have avoided it like the plague. However, I have learned that I do not pick up on everything embedded in the material that I read and that some of the things that I miss others pick up on. Furthermore, one of the best ways to improve your understanding of a subject is to debate it. Based on those reasons I started to take part in study groups both throughout the quarter and to prepare for exams. It is so crazy to think that the way America is, it places us in competition with one another and continuously advocates the advantage of being an individual that can do things on their own. But the truth is that we function better as groups. And since we are communal creatures the assertion that we function better as groups only makes sense. As a result of these two major changes to my method of learning, in the space of one quarter, I went from assimilating about 30% of what I read to assimilating more than 70% of what I read and I am now able to wade through the strengths and weaknesses of arguments and apply them to real life scenarios in real time.

I did not walk out of my first quarter at the University of Washington with 4.0’s, and in fact I did not earn one 4.0 at all. The truth is that since I started college, this has turned out to been the worst quarter in terms of grades that I have had so far. I earned a 3.0 in Socio-Linguistics, a 3.1 in Philosophy and a 3.6 in History of the Middle East with a 3.23 cumulative G.P.A. But as Sarra Tekola said, “if you were to just come to this school and start earning 4.0’s, then the school would not truly be challenging you and it would not be doing you any good. The fact that you are not earning 4.0’s, right now, is proof that you are being challenged so, do not be discouraged.” What I learned and earned my first quarter at UW was far more important than a 4.0. I learned that my thoughts are important, that I can rely on other people, that I can synthesize the material I read into a coherent train of thought, and that I am worthy of being a student at the University of Washington. I learned that I have selected the correct degrees for what I want to do with my life and I have a firm grasp of who I am, what and why I am doing it, and how I intend to achieve my goals. Most importantly, I have surrounded myself with people who believe in me and my goals and are willing and able to provide me with the necessary feedback on my thoughts and encouragement to achieve my goals. Most importantly, just as Tekola promised me, I have made the transition from the community college level to the university level and I am prepared to continue my education at the University of Washington because I have caught ahold of the ropes.

I got this.

UW logo

 

https://renaissancethepoet.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/i-am-a-husky/?relatedposts_exclude=350

https://renaissancethepoet.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/small-fish-in-a-large-pond-make-waves/?relatedposts_exclude=350

https://renaissancethepoet.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/the-american-dream/?relatedposts_exclude=350

Finals ((Sneak Peek) of the “Rappers = Nerds” album

 I am a student at the University of Washington and just graduated from North Seattle Community College and  I think that those of you who are in colleges, universities or high schools you will be able to relate to this song. This song is about the pressure that surmounts as I enter into finals week with all of its incumbent pressure and utter craziness. I made this song both to decompress from all of the stress and to share a method with you that I have found to help with it all. The first verse unfortunately is not the complete story, this just a sneak peak. The completed version will be released spring 2014.

 https://renaissancethepoet.wordpress.com/music-and-poetry/

 

Small fish in a LARGE pond? Make Waves!

It is not easy jumping into a large pond with your dreams in one hand and your concerns in the other while everyone else and their mamma is doing the exact same thing. There is no reason to feel like you are not supposed to feel just the way that you feel because there is nothing wrong with feeling uncomfortable about doing something that is new and is usually, by definition scary. So, just what is the solution to feeling insignificant? What can be done about being caught off guard by unforeseen circumstances while pursuing your dreams?  And how are these two questions and their answers related? I will answer these questions and many more.

 

I have never experienced anything quite so, humbling as walking onto the campus of University of Washington for the first day of class.  I finally understand the saying; “Small fish in a large pond,” because over 40,000 students converged into a seemingly endless wave flooding Red Square and classes. I just graduated from North Seattle Community College at the end of last spring and when I graduated I do not think that there were many people on the campus who either did not know me, or know of me. Now that may sound pomp, but not only do I tend to stand out like a sore thumb nowadays, but I was also on the student government and a hip hop head on campus. It is difficult not to be noticed when I do the types of things that I used to be terrified to do.

 

However, I have not always been popular, or as full of courage as I have been these last couple of years. In truth, I used to be a terrified, scrawny, nobody that people could forget just after I walked away. I could not stand up in front of any one and speak, could not speak to girls, and I used to lack the courage to even set goals, let alone to pursue them. I was as afraid of success as I was of failure, it was a true dilemma. There were many things that led to the change that occurred in my life, but I will start with two sayings that I have now fused themselves into my bones:

 

1)       “I got sick and tired of being sick and tired,” and this was important to me because I finally reached a point in my life that I was fed up with complaining about continuously ending up in the same position.

 

2)      “When the pain outweighs the pain then we change,” and this was important because it means that when the pain of remaining the same is greater than the pain of doing something different, then it becomes less painful to do something new and we may then begin to change.

 

These two short and fairly simple sayings were simple enough to get through the fog that was my denial and yet complex enough to provide me with some real benefit. Yet, just being sick and tired of being sick and tired is not quite enough to effect any real change. It is like going onto a diet and jumping back off of it as soon as the weight is lost, only to regain the weight again because none of the long term habits have been revised. For a change to truly take hold and remain consistent, it must not only be sustainable, but it also has to have purpose behind it. That purpose is the direction the goals direct us into.

 

So, in effect, what I am saying is that for any change to become permanent, there has to be a goal attached to it and further that that goal must not have a completion date to it. I know that this seems counter intuitive, because the usual interpretation of a goal is that it is something to be achieved. However, you may decide to set a goal, like I did many times, actually achieve the goal, and do like I have done over and over again, and revert back to the old behavior once the goal was accomplished. So, the goal must have an achievement date, but for the purposes of manifesting the type of change that we are attempting to make, this needs to be a living goal that never fully comes to an end.

 

Yet, for a goal to truly take shape, you will have to get down to the roots, the causes and conditions to set a goal that will meet the requirements of what the problem truly is. Otherwise, the goal will answer something that is not the problem, if it answers anything at all. The problem that I had with feeling insignificant was not really that I felt unnoticed, in reality, it was more that I felt lonely. You see the amount of people was not actually that important, it was the quality of the relationships that I had. I will tell you from experience, you can know everyone in a large room and still feel alone. Being a creature, a human being that derives the necessary bonds from being connected with others, that we need the connections formed through relationships. Thus, my goal became to manifest life-long and healthy relationships with people that I was truly invested into their lives.

 

It is perhaps an ironic occurrence, but one cannot have friends if one is not a friend to others. That is why the essence of my goal was not to earn friends but to actually be a friend to others. It was not until I formed the initial goal, that I truly began to envision why I was so lonely; I had not learned how to be a friend to others. To be a real friend to another human being entails first, listening to them. This is more than just hearing them speak and waiting for your turn to jump in. It requires that you make the time and invest the energy to digest what their opinions, hopes, sorrows and dreams are, to question their assertions and respond to their concerns. Being friends with someone is not just about being heard because relationships are symbiotic in nature consisting of both giving and receiving what we need; each other.

 

The next component of being a friend, having friends and keeping them is the keeping of your promises. Morals govern our own actions and they also help us to govern our collective actions. And what is requisite for the nurturing of any relationship is that which is the basis of morality; honesty. Honesty entails the honoring of your promises. Without these two conditions being fulfilled, then there can actually be no relationship because without honesty we can never share our true selves or know anyone else’s true self; and without honoring our promises, then what we promise equates to lies and destroys the relationships we have. And without relationships our groups and consequentially all of society with it crumbles and is why honesty is the basis of all morality.

 

Society is such that we are taught and we learn how to protect that which is most venerable about us. Ironically, we tend to protect that which makes us most human. We protect that which makes us most unique and interesting to others; our idiosyncrasies and nuances, the secret thoughts that reveal our true character, our dreams. And instead of presenting this to the world we learn how to conceal this and put on a cookie-cutter-personality-face so that we can fit in the world and not stick out too much. And while this is a strategy that tends to work to help us survive the tumultuous gauntlet that is public life, it is also insanely difficult to learn how to shut it off. Thus, what tends to happen is that this front, this mask that we put on for the world, we continue to wear for our friends and they do not get to know who we really are because we are afraid to let them into our worlds. Sometimes it gets so bad that we can even forget who we really are. And if we do not know who we are, then how can we share ourselves with someone else? If we cannot share ourselves with someone else, then how can we be a friend? And if we cannot be a friend, then how can we have friends? These are important questions to consider as you think about this mask you wear for the world.

 

I effect what these masks do for us is to keep the world at a distance. However, therein lies the problem, it keeps the world at a distance and leaves us isolated from the people of the world, which is the opposite of what we truly want. This is the quintessential example of a paradox that we ourselves create whereby, the thing that we want most is also the thing that we are most afraid to allow because we are afraid that we will not be accepted for who we really are. We are afraid that we are not worth loving. I have found though, that when I have taken off my mask and let people know who I really am, that I have not been ostracized, I have not been laughed at, and I have actually been accepted and loved. This is how and when I started to have real relationships, relationships without the masks that I have trained myself to put on for the world so that I can fit in. The crazy part is that the world hates those masks and is just dying for us to take them off because we have been craving for contact with real human beings for so long we have forgotten what it feels like.

 

 

By this point you may be asking; “this is all fine and well, but where did you get the courage to approach others from?” And this is an important question because for many of us, and especially me, the act of introducing me to others used to paralyze me. To see me or to know me today, most people, unless they knew me when I was a teenager, would never believe that I was the shiest person you were likely to have ever met. Anyone who has ever witnessed me performing a piece of Spoken Word or a Hip Hop song would blatantly deny that I had ever been shy. However, I used to be terrified to be in front of a crowd of any size and do anything, and that includes walking to class. I used to get so worked up in what I thought other people saw, that I would trip over my own feet attempting to walk a straight line, let alone putting me on a stage to perform something that I had written myself. Nonetheless, that is precisely who I was when I was younger. I was terrified that people would see the chinks in my mask and discover who I truly was, a scared little boy crying out for affection.

 

Anyone who has ever felt like the all-seeing eye of the public was focused on them, like I did, may think that it is counter intuitive to assert that most people do not focus enough on others to actually notice all of our idiosyncrasies. Psychologists call this the “Spotlight Effect,” whereby we think that others notice all the little minute details about ourselves, but that is just not the case. There is just too many stimuli in the world to them focus on those minute details. For me, this was a true paradox because I felt that nobody noticed me at all and yet, at the same time I was also terrified that they noticed me too much. It is quite comical when I think about it now and I can chuckle, but back then it was the crucible of Hell for me.  What I am getting at, is that I was not the center of the universe no matter how much I wanted to be. Nobody focused on me like they focus on the sun in the morning as it raises above the horizon, no, I was just plain old average Michael.

 

Being sick and tired of being sick and tired, having the pain outweigh the pain, and dying for some change I let all of my fear go and threw away my masks, all of them. At first, it was weird and horrifying, and was like walking around naked. I was like a hatchling bird poking its head in and out of its shell as I broke though getting a little taste of freedom and then diving back into the complacent warmth. They say that all you need is the faith of a mustard seed. Well, all it took was that first taste of liberation and I was hooked. I was like being woke from the Matrix (I took the green pill) and the world became brand new. For the first time in my life I was able to be myself and I could not go back if I wanted to. And that is when the strangest and most unforeseen result started to happen, when the people I met loved this contact with a real human being that they could relate to, I was accepted on the spot.

 

So, I started breaking all the rules that I had built up in my head. I used to be terrified to walk up to someone and reach out my hand and say, “hi, my name is Michael. How are you? What is your name?” and it was something so simple, but it may as well have been Jupiter that I was trying to reach before then. People are terrified of it, but they are so dying for a connection with another living, breathing, feeling human being that some will recoil in fear and the rest will jump all over the opportunity to be free as well.

 

The point that I am attempting to drive home is that most people are just as terrified as you are to make that first contact that they will appreciate your making the first move. When I finally realized that, and I knew that people really did love me for who I was, not what my mask showed the world that I was, it all got real easy. And it also allowed me to set the terms for the engagements, which means that I could make the approaches on my terms. The way I learned how to make the approach to other was I just got off my ass and did it!

 

This is the shape that the goal I initially made to earn friends took. It started out that I did not feel so ostracized, then turned into a goal to not feel lonely, which inevitably evolved into being a friend to others, and how to be a friend. And the goal finally concluded took its full shape with the dynamic of with how to make friends.  Thus, I had actually developed a life-long plan of how to live and be a true friend, and this plan in turn has earned me the friends that I had always wanted. Today I no longer feel insignificant.

 

That answers my first question: “just what is the solution to feeling insignificant?” and now I will address the question of dreams. At the beginning of this discussion I mentioned that I had just begun to attend the University of Washington and how little of a blip that I was walking onto the campus. This effect can the subsequent feeling can be felt regardless of the size of the group you have just entered, but I will tell you from experience it is quite sobering to be confronted with 40,000 other students. It is true, that walking onto a campus of this size that one could feel estranged and unimportant. You may be asking yourself what this has to do with achieving a dream. Well, last year I attended a Students of Color conference hosted by several minority groups and several colleges and universities from the state of Washington and one of the primary things that they drove in was how we needed a network to be successful in a four year university.

 

If you are like me and have come from, or are coming from a small school where it was possible to know just about everyone, then a campus like this is a huge difference. I come from a place that just about any network that I could have desired was just a stone-throw-away from any place that I stood. By network, I mean a Social Network or rather a collection of people who are all engaged in some specific act and have shared goals. Two of the most important characteristics of a social network are the shared experiences that group members have and the experiences that can be shared about how to overcome adversities. People in these networks understand us and we do not have to explain, they just seem to implicitly know because they have either dealt with or are dealing with the same types of issues that we ourselves are going through.

 

I cannot even begin to try to explain how many times I have attempt to explain to a European American what it is like being an African American attempting to get an education, or the pain that is associated with it.  There are just some things that I have to deal with that group of people are unfamiliar with, but other African Americans know precisely what my struggles are. This is not an attack on any one individual or any group this is simply an observation that has been confirmed repeatedly. And the observation also works in reverse, I am either not aware of all the circumstances that European Americans face or I do not understand them all. Now this is not to say that there are not benefits to forming groups, alliances and friendships with people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, quite the contrary in fact because they can be incalculably valuable. However, when I need help with some specific issue, or I need a confidant that I can express my troubles with it helps to have someone who understands where I am coming from.

 

Social networks have further importance as well. This is especially true if these social networks are formed around more than just race or ethnicity. Furthermore, there is no rule that states that any person can only be involved in one group. The more groups that we are linked into the more resources become available to us like; job opportunities, scholarship opportunities, events to join in, parties, study groups and the like. And perhaps most important to this discussion is that they gives us groups of people to belong to so that we do not have to feel so alone.

 

This brings us to the crux of this discussion, which is how not to feel so alone on a campus the size of this the University of Washington. Last week I walked onto the campus and every organization you can imagine that a campus would have; the Hip Hop Student Association, the Black Student Union; the History Honor Society; the Arm Wrestling Club, the Earth Club, and son on were tabling in Red Square and I just went up and got linked in. As I have said, I learned not to have to wear my masks in public any longer, and that people were dying to meet me just as much as I was dying to meet them, so I just walked up to the people that I thought were interesting and introduced myself. That is the purpose of tabling. They were there to meet people, so that is precisely what I did. I found out when they met and I joined in. Now that is not to say that I was not afraid, of course I was afraid, but I was more interested in making those connections and developing the networks that the people at the Students of Color Conference promised me would make all the difference to my success while I attend the university.

 

For example, I went to the meet and greet hosted by the Black Student Union and although I am of African American descent, sometimes I still feel out of place in a group of all Black people, because I do not speak much slang any longer and I do not do many of the things that (I think) they do, and so I feel as though I stick out. But, I do not have any more masks to wear, so when it came time for me to interact, I only had to choices; run or stay silent, or interact and make the friends that I have always wanted: and I chose to interact and I made those friends. You see, I have learned that who you are is not as important, as it is that you are.

 

The final component was making friends in class. Now this goes hand-in-hand with social networks because the people in you classes will be going through exactly the same struggles as you are as you are going through them. So, linking up with them will be vitally important to you meeting with success in school because they will have picked out different things as important from the material, will have notes that you missed and can help to make concept clearer for you. Plus, if you have not been to a university lecture hall you are in for a real treat, if you are an undercover nerd like I am because the lecture halls seat a minimum of 200 people. That was quite a shock to me when I walked in because I was used to 30 person classrooms where I could touch my professor. So, having a few friends in the lecture hall will turn that ginormous room into something very manageable for you.

 

The first thing was that I had to read my books. This may seem like an over simplification and something that need not be said. However, I cannot begin to tell you how many students come to a university and do not read their books. (Why does someone waste the $20,000 + per year on tuition if, they do not want to learn, it makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever, but it happens.) The point is to earn your degree so that we can become successful in life and in order for that to be possible, we have to learn the material and that includes reading our books, but I digress and that is a topic for another discussion. The point is, having a meager understanding of the material as I walk into class allows me to be able to have a dialogue with both the other students in the classroom and the professor before, during and after the lecture. So that when the professor asks a question, I can raise my hand and more often than not, I have the answer because I have read the material. I know you may be like, “you are one of those people,” and let me tell you what, there are more people there who want to be successful than not, so those are the people that the rest of the people want to know because if you are that person then people will want to study with you and thus, you attract the people to you.

 

Second, is that just like with the Black Student Union, I walked into the classroom the very first day, having completed the reading for the week and I started introducing myself to everyone that was in a close vicinity to me. I sit in the front row and that means that I have to get there early enough to get my seat. I do this because I went to a lecture presented by a man named John Vroman, who wrote a book titled; Living College Life in the Front Row, and gave a lecture on how to be successful in college. Basically what he said was that you have to get right up in the mix. The natural tendency for people that are like me, who have traditionally not liked to stick out is to find a place in the back. And this may have its origin in that African Americans were traditionally told to sit in the back, and the theory of Oppisitional Identity, which states that it is not cool for an African American to be intelligent or academically active and engaged. Thus, what I have learned is that in order for me to be successful is to shatter those negative stereotypes, break my negative perceptions of who I think and other think that I am supposed to be, and to sit in the front row. What I have found is that the other people in the front row were just as engaged and determined to meet with success as I was/am.

 

The result is that now all of my professors and teachers know me on a first name basis and so do many of the students on campus. On a campus of over 40,000 students I am no longer just an outlier and I am set up with some of the most profound and strongest leaders. As such, I am set to meet with success. When you are a small fish in a large pond, do not just wade in and become an outlier feeling insignificant. Jump in with both feet, Cannon Ball that SHIT!!! And make waves.

 

This realization came hand in hand with the realization that in order for me to have a friend, I first had to be a friend; and that in order for me to meet with success I had to have friends, I could not do it alone. That I had to throw off the bondage of my pride and get rid of the masks I was wearing so that I could truly be myself and make some real connections. And that myself, without the front was worth being both loved and appreciated. Be yourself and makes waves through the lives of the people who are just dying to meet you, the real you, and set yourself on the path to achieving your dreams.

I am a HUSKY

UW logo

I have dreamt my whole life that I would be worthy enough to attend the University of Washington, but I never truly believed it was possible until now. Still, it feels like I am dreaming.  My life took so many twists and turns while I was growing up that I never knew where I was going to end up and I felt powerless to direct my own life, to say the least. Yet, just over two years ago I decided that I was going give everything I had, invest every ounce of energy, and to make every necessary sacrifice in order to accomplish this life-long dream. In one week from today I am going to walk onto the campus for the first time as a student of the University of Washington.

For me, attending the University of Washington is a gateway into a new life. I am not saying that other universities are not as credible or as life-changing. What I am saying is that as a first generation college student this is an evolutionary step into the future of my family. Even as an American in this supposed “land of opportunity,” when I was born I had a limited set of opportunities to pursue.  I am a man of mixed descent; my mother is African-American and my father is Irish-American, and both of my parents are mixed with Native-American, so I am about as light-skinned as we come. That does not overshadow the “One Drop” rule that states, “one drop of African blood and you are considered African—Black,” and the opportunities for Black children were not as forthcoming as they were for White children when I was born.

My maternal grandmother is retired now, but she worked through temporary work agencies for twenty years because she lacked the education necessary to acquire any long-term employment. My maternal grandfather was a mechanic in the United States Air Force in the 1960’s and when he returned to the states he began to work for Metro driving buses. My mother has been a house-keeper for twenty years and has done everything and provided everything that any child could both need and want. However, she has always felt the lack of not having an education. All she ever wanted was for her children to have a better life than she has had and to have opportunities that she never had.  Everyone in my family is well read and very intelligent, but in this credential society that relies on proof of knowledge in the form of a piece of paper, their intelligence has been neither respected, nor accepted.

I wish that I had more to say about my father’s family, but the truth is that my mother, my brother and I, and even my father were disowned because my father married a Black woman and he had mixed children. There has been a long standing feud between Irish immigrants and African-Americans since the 18th and 19th Centuries, because these two groups were pitted against one another in competition for resources and jobs. That feud has been passed down through the generations and it ripped my family apart; racism and oppression is still alive today and all I need to prove this is my own family experience. The point is that, these are the reasons that I do not know much about my paternal family.  My father however, was not very productive because he suffered from alcoholism and a mental illness that fueled a psychosis that caused us to flee him when I was but a child. I have not seen or heard from my father since I was ten years old. My mother has raised my brother and me since then.

If it is not evident already in what I have said, my family was and is economically challenged. Affording college for two sons, let alone some of the things that most Americans consider staples in their lives was not possible. The tuition and expenses of attending the University of Washington is approximately $20,000 a year and the costs were no less bleak when I was eighteen years old. Unless I was able to earn scholarships, my family was not going to be able to send me to college.

However, I did not have the grades to earn those scholarships because when I was fourteen years old I became a member of the neighborhood gang and I dropped out of school. There are many reasons that can be listed for why I made those decisions, and they are all pertinent, but the reality is that those decisions destroyed my hopes of earning scholarships when I was a teenager and with it my dreams of attending the University of Washington.

At this point, I fell into the footsteps of my father and I thus continued the cycle of alcoholism. It is a vile and corrosive enemy that is a paradoxical trickster; on the one hand alcohol and drugs can be imbibed for spirituality or relaxation, but it can also be addicting and destructive. Some say that alcoholism is a disease, and of those that believe that, some also say that it is a family disease. If that is true, and my experience would suggest that it is at least possible, then that would also mean that my children are at risk. It has also been shown that socioeconomic conditions contribute to the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs. If this is true, then not only was that a factor in my life, but it would also be a factor in the lives of my children. If all of this is true, then my not going to college would mean that I could not climb out of the cycle of socioeconomic despair because I would not have the credentials to earn gainful employment and, the cycle of alcoholism would be passed onto my children who could potentially pass it onto their children as well.

By the grace of God, I was able to get away from the drugs and alcohol and even the gang when I was nineteen years old, but by that time the damage was done. I was distrusted by society, I had a criminal record, I had no education and I was struggling just to keep my head above water. What I had going for me was the desire to break the cycles which had plagued my family for generations. So, slowly with the help of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, I began to put the pieces of my life back together and to make reparations for the harm that I had caused to my family and the people of this great society. It took a few years, but I did finally re-earn the trust of society, rebuilt the broken relationships with my family and friends, and I found employment in the service industry.

In 2004, I was given the opportunity to enter into the construction industry. This too, however, was only a step in the right direction because while it did afford me some room for growth, it did not allow me to use my brain. I moved up in the company rather quickly because I was good with my hands and I was good with people, and I started to attend classes to help me with business and construction management, which included project management. Yet, these were only certificate classes, and as I began to excel in them it rewetted my appetite for a real education, at first for construction management, but then for law. There was still the little problem of being able to afford the tuition and expenses, though, and I could not find a way to manage it. I soon came to the harsh realization though that if I did not leave the construction industry I would destroy my body, my chances for a college degree, and I would possibly not break the cycle my family was stuck in. And in 2011, I left my construction career to pursue a law degree by whatever means necessary.

That is when I started to attend North Seattle Community College to earn my Associate of Arts degree. My mother, still a house-keeper took me in so that I could devote all of my energy to my studies and I have lived with her ever since. This was very humbling because since I was nineteen years old, I had been on my own and sought to take care of myself, but there was no way that I was going to be able to do that and succeed in college alone. My mother cared for my living situation and I was able to secure financial aid to afford to pay for classes, book and transportation. Getting approved for and maintaining my financial aid status was not easy, I was constantly having to apply and appeal decisions, but with the help of my mother and the people in the financial aid office at NSCC, I was able to find every cent that I needed to continue my education.

Adjusting to collegiate life was not easy, I had been away from true academic life for many years and I had to relearn how to be a student. When I was seven years old, I suffered from a massive brain injury during a car accident that left me with a very short attention span and migraine headaches. This made reading miserably difficult for me because halfway through a paragraph I might forget everything that I had just read. Yet, I was determined not to be defeated and I invested myself into learning techniques so that I could stay focused.

Professor Gutierrez, my English 102 instructor was incredibly helpful in teaching me how to stay focused. He taught me how to annotate as I read by underlining the important lines, blocking out important sections, and writing in the margin. All of this was vastly different than my experience in high school—when I did attend—because we could not write in our borrowed books and no one taught us how to take notes, and I finally began to have an experience of my own with the books that I was reading. As I began to do this, I found that I could not only remain focused while reading, but that I could actually retain the information better because I had owned it and made it part of myself. He also taught me how to write clearly and precisely and how to provide accurate citations of other people’s work that I assimilated into my own assignments. All of which I carried through into the rest of my classes and helped me to succeed in every one of them.

Beyond all my greatest hopes, dreams, and aspirations I did the unbelievable; I graduated from North Seattle Community College June 14, 2013 with my Associate of Arts degree. And not only did I graduate, but I was also the valedictorian of my graduating class. Even as I write this, I sit in near disbelief that I actually accomplished what I never believed possible, what seemed impossible for so long became a reality and I exceeded what I hoped was possible for a person like me with the history that I have. That very same week I received a letter from the University of Washington stated that I had been accepted for enrollment in the autumn of 2013, my dream was coming true. Yet, there was still one piece of the puzzle that had not been accounted for: tuition and expenses.

I immediately began applying for scholarships and financial aid, but hit just about every roadblock that could emerge. I discovered that I was supposed to have my financial aid request submitted the previous February. Neither my counselors at NSCC, nor anything I read on the UW website prepared me for that. And at that time, the apartment complex that my mother and I were staying at was bought by new owners and for an unspecified reason they evicted us, so we had to fight to find a place to live in a very limited amount of time. My head was not in the game and I barely scraped through the quarter with my grades intact. None of that changed the fact that in being fair to all students, we all need to make the deadlines regardless of the life circumstances are present, or at least so I thought.

As it turned out, the University of Washington also had an appellate process. In the appeal I was allowed to make the true and accurate claim that because I was a first generation college student that I was unaware of how to maneuver through the bureaucratic system. I was also able to establish that I met the need-based-requirements for federal assistance and in late July, my appeal was approved and I was given the money that I needed to attend the University of Washington.

By earning my Associate of Arts degree I have already broken the cycle that my family has been in for generations, but an AA degree does not open many doors however, because in today’s credential society that is nearly equivalent to what a high school diploma was worth thirty years ago. The University of Washington is my gateway into a new life because the degree I will earn will place me in a higher employment bracket and will help me to gain access to the professional degree that I am pursuing. This is a dream come true, but this is only the beginning.

I have several plans for what I want to do with the degrees that I am going to ear at the University of Washington.  The most important of which is that once I graduate I will finally be able to afford to buy my mother a house, get her out of the house-keeping industry and to send her to school to earn the degree that she has always wanted to earn. Besides earning my own degree, I cannot think of a better way to repay her for all that she has invested into me and my development all these years. Next, what I want to do is use the law degree that I will earn is turning that into a mechanism to benefit humanity. Currently, I am working on a project to develop a curriculum utilizing hip hop and poetry to reach other at-risk-youth to instruct them on how to be successful in college. Later, I will be focusing on public policy and the United States government as a means to effect positive change.

For a man like me, all of this is nearly unbelievable and I am beside myself with gratitude. In seven days I will be walking into my first class at the University of Washington and stepping into the first day of the rest of my life.

If I have learned anything through this process, then it is this:

 “All dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”

~Walt Disney

Success is a State of Mind: Self-Worth

Valedictorian of NSCC 2013

If a person feels good about her or his-self and their capabilities, then that person has a strong and positive sense of self-worth. If a person has a strong and positive sense of self-worth, then it may directly impact the outcomes of their actions in a positive manner. In contrast, if a person has a low sense of self-worth, then it may negatively impact the outcomes of their actions. Therefore, if the outcomes of actions may be directly impacted in a positive manner by having a strong and positive sense of self-worth, then it reasonably follows that a person who wants to be successful in life should seek to increase their sense self-worth.

By definition; self-esteem is a person’s feeling of self-worth, whether high or low. There are many factors that may contribute to a person’s self-esteem, like attitude, previous accomplishments, present circumstances, or prospective future activities, which all impact the way a person feels about his or her-self. Experience has taught me that what has happened in the past, what is happening in my present, and what I think will occur in the future only have the emotional power that I allow them to have. That is, how I think about these events changes how I feel about them. So, if and when I change how I think about those events, then I also change how I feel about them and thus, their power over me also changes.

For example, when I was a fourteen years old I stole a van and was caught after a high-speed chase through downtown Seattle, and I was sentenced to a year in a juvenile penitentiary. I resented that I had made those decisions for years to come because not only had I hurt people, but I also thought I had destroyed my future. However, when I was locked up, I both went to treatment and started writing poetry. At nineteen, both of those acts saved my life. First, the poetry helped me see through the denial of my drug addiction, which I learned in treatment was the primary cause of my behavior. Second, the drug and alcohol treatment showed me that there was a place that I could go for help. While getting sober I learned how to make reparations for the wrongs I had done and that my experiences could help to save the lives of others. Thus, by changing the way I thought about these situations they have continued to raise not only myself, but also others from the pits of Hell and despair.

Although it is true, that it is not necessary to have a strong and positive sense of self-worth to be successful, it can nonetheless, be highly beneficial to success. This is especially true when it is understood that success is measured on an individual basis; by the individual who measures it. For me, I now understand that contemporary circumstances are just that, and my immediate thoughts neither shade my emotions, nor callous my self-esteem. My self-worth is derived from knowing who I am, not from who I was, or who I could be in the future and that translates into success.

April 2011, I had been broken by life’s circumstances. I had fallen into an industry that I never planned to be part of; construction. I actually excelled in the industry as I had started as a laborer in 2004 and by 2011 I was a partner in the company. However, after the economic turmoil hit the United States and the rest of the world in 2008, maintaining a business became exceedingly difficult because our market, the housing market, collapsed.  and it felt that my life was going nowhere.  Also, in 2008 I snapped my knee working with at-risk youth as a mentor for the program T.S.B. (the Service Board), I tore the ACL, PCL and Meniscus in my right knee. The injury never completely healed and once a week I rolled my knee out of socket on the job and worsened the injury each time. Each time I looked to my mentors, who were all forty-five years old and older I noticed that they had all suffered injuries, yet they could not stop working because that was all they knew how to do. Furthermore, no other companies would hire them at their ages so, they had to work to put food on their tables and to keep a roof over their heads. What was worse, was that none of them were happy. This was the future that I was looking into and for me it was a bleak realization, but I did not know how to escape or to change the direction of my life, I felt trapped. I was broken because I measured success in greater terms than monetary gain, happiness was the largest component of success for me, and at that moment my self-worth was negative because there was no happiness in my life nor did I foresee any.

So, after being broken in April of 2011, I made the unorthodox decision to do something I had been terrified to do for years, I left the industry and enrolled in North Seattle Community College (NSCC) as the beginning to the pursuit of earning a law degree. Instantly, the weight of despair lifted off of my shoulders. I had no idea until that moment that what I was doing was killing my spirit and shattering my self-esteem, thus making me unsuccessful. Now college was by no means easy for me and I neither have doubts, nor reservations of any form that success, may and most often is, a difficult and fearful undertaking, but fear is about the future and as such, bears no relevance to what is possible today. I graduated from NSCC June of 2013, and I was the valedictorian of my graduating class. That very week I was also accepted into the University of Washington as a History and Philosophy undergraduate.

I share all of this with you, not so that I can toot my own horn, but rather so that I can convey to you an example of what is possible when the lenses through which we view the world are reversed. As a teenager, I was a high school drop-out, a thug, and a thief whose only prospects were prison and death. As a young man, and because of the decisions I made as an adolescent, it seemed that my only viable outcome in life was to be an unhappy-manual-laborer. Yet,  when I had the courage—and in my situation, necessity was a great motivator—and I took the time to re-evaluate my perspective a whole new world opened up to me.

Success is a state of mind and it is directly related to self-worth. If you are finding that you are not in a position in life today, which you consider to be successful, then it may be helpful to try looking at your world from an entirely new perspective and doing something that you have always believed was impossible. I have found that nothing reinforces a sense of self-worth like minor successes and those successes come from taking action. These minor successes help you to build momentum, which is vitally important because the road of life has bumps and potholes all over the place, and are set there in an attempt to derail you. But with momentum and a new perspective, these minor diversions, which otherwise would seem catastrophic become still more successes that add to your momentum as you overcome them.

In closing, I will share a metaphor with you that I developed a few years ago and, which has kept me focused in the midst of the turmoil of pursuing success:

When we stop to consider a goal, it is as if we are standing on the peak of one mountain looking at the peak of another mountain. From this vantage point we can see the forests and the jungles, the valleys and the rivers, which must be maneuvered to make it to our desired mountain peak. From there we lay our best plans, drawing maps and establishing contingencies for the unforeseeable and when we are ready, we forge into the great mystery of success by departing from our vantage point.

The key is not to lose focus of our objective mountain peak. Yet, once we enter into the forests and valleys we often lose sight of where it is we have come from and where we intend to go. This is a great place to be because it is neither our past, nor our future which is important, only the moment that we are in right now. Trust your map and the direction you selected while remembering that it is not the goal that is the true reward, but actually the lessons learned, the experiences and the alliances that are gained in the process that are the true rewards. So, when we become lost in the jungle and we encounter divergent paths that would divert us, stay the course, do not become lost in the realm of what-ifs and accomplish nothing; you may always return to these other interests after you reach your mountain peak.

There will come a point when we enter into what I call the “Waterfall Effect,” wherein the terror of what the future will hold paralyzes us. During our journey we have come to a waterfall, and like many waterfalls, what is on the opposite side of the waterfall is difficult to see. The F.E.A.R. (False Existence Appearing Real) terrorizes us because the waterfall is heavy, cold and could possibly kill us. The quintessential fear is that we do not know who we will become once we have crossed through the waterfall. Where we stand and who we are is both familiar and comfortable, and we may not be ready to release them, but on the other side is everything that we have desired.

Regardless of the fear, life has the propensity to propel us onward so, we must enter the waterfall. Once we have entered the waterfall all of our fears are realized as the weight of conviction bears down on us and we are pushed under the surface. We fight with everything that we have and just when we think we are defeated, we emerge from all the pressure on the other side of the waterfall as the weight and the pressure washes away from us. We are cleansed of all our fears and doubts and after having weathered the weight we are able to stand taller and more straight. The “Waterfall Effect” signifies the growth that occurs which many of us fear, but in the end sets us free.

It is this growth, which gives us the strength and the courage to scale the mountain to our desired peak; the goal we initially had our hearts set upon. Several minor successes will have been translated into a major accomplishment, whereupon these major success begin to occupy the same role as the minor successes that provided the impetus to continue forging through both the jungle and the waterfall.

By amending our state of mind, we can re-establish a positive sense of self-worth and that can lead us in the direction to the success we desire.