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Trading Self-Destruction for Self-Determination

Trading Self-Destruction for Self-Determination

I arrived on campus with nothing. No vision, no goals, no agenda and no idea. However, I knew I wanted a college degree. I wanted to improve myself. As a Black man, I was determined to prove that I could accomplish what so many of my brothers could not.
Going to a predominantly White university in upstate New York was not the most ideal situation, but it offered me a chance. My mother wanted me to attend college locally. I was her only child and she wanted to protect me from the world. Unfortunately, such protection would have only castrated me and made me impotent. I wanted more and thought that going away to college would give it to me. 
I arrived on campus and immediately created a bond with several other freshmen male students of color. We were all Educational Opportunity Program students. The idea was that we would all graduate together as an example of what Black and Latino men could do. Instead it turned into a collegiate version of the children’s song “The 10 Little Indians.”
We started our group with eight. We lost two after the first semester. They fell victim to the freedom of being away from home. Then three more were gone after the next
semester. Homesickness did them in.
As for myself, I was academically dismissed after three lackluster semesters. I did everything within my power to get thrown out. I tried to take the entire weight of the race on my shoulders. I was considered militant because I wore medallions and had posters of Malcolm X. In a public speaking class my fellow classmates criticized my choice of Malcolm as the subject of my speech on heroes.
I desired to prove firsthand that Black men could be leaders. I joined the student senate and the Black student union. I auditioned for a theatre production being directed by the university’s only Black faculty member. Outside of that, I was constantly bombarded with questions regarding Black life. My classmates wanted to know why Blacks were always angry. Why did we need Black History Month?
My professors were no better. I often wondered if they respected my abilities or if they considered me another affirmative action freeloader. In this whirlwind, I neglected my studies. I got into trouble frequently and abused alcohol regularly in a weak attempt to cope with the stress. The first semester in college my friends and I were drinking almost nightly. We actually cheered when malt liquor was made available at the local stores.
In our ignorance, instead of disowning all the negative items that drove us to college, we embraced them. We treated our Black sisters with disrespect. I was the guiltiest. The girlfriend that I was with at the time had encouraged me to follow her to school. However, my immaturity and lack of understanding of what constituted a real man led me to do and say things that eventually drove her away.
Getting dismissed from college hurt me deeply. Then losing my high school sweetheart left me broken. I started to sink into depression. Suicidal thoughts crossed my mind frequently. I went home and began hanging with my high school friends. I started smoking pot and drinking 40s to numb the pain that I was feeling.
Then one day, as I was loitering in the housing projects high and doing nothing, I saw some of my White former classmates driving around. There they were cruising around enjoying the fruits of their labor and what was I doing? Reinforcing a stereotype that I had found offensive a few years earlier. At that moment, I decided that I had something to prove to the world and myself.
I returned to college with a renewed
vision. I realized that the only thing that could prevent me from getting a college degree was my own unwillingness to commit to the necessary work. I saw that first and foremost I needed to make my grades a
priority. My quest to be a leader needed to begin in the classroom. I allowed my
intellect to shine for my classmates and used it to gain the respect that I had wanted.
I earned the Minority Leadership award my junior year. For the past six years, it has hung on my wall along with my Bachelor of Arts degree in History. I display them proudly as a testament of what a Black man can do even when he tries to self-destruct.  

 — Carlyle Hicks is the Overlook Area
Coordinator at Manhattan College in Riverdale, N.Y.

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