“College,” As Told By a Young, Black Male

Life is about choices. Each choice and decision you make will ultimately decide your fate. I am a young Black male enrolled in college. It’s a first in my family, but one of the many in America today. Like any journey there will have good and bad moments, however, I feel quite blessed about where I am and what I’ve done thus far.

For the story to make sense, I’ll start at the beginning. In my fall semester of college, I was eighteen years old. Up to that point, attending college was a high priority. My path was unconventional, as my grade school education came via home-school as opposed to attending school with my peers. I heard there are now at least 100,000 black home-schooled families but in my experience it was still new. I knew I had a lot of ground to cover.

I wasn’t scared of going to college because I am a young, Black man in America. I knew that college would be a challenge but given my background and race, I felt the hardships of college would pale in comparison. In fact, the transition to college wasn’t as difficult as I assumed it would be.

My first year was filled with slight anxieties because I like to be in control of my environment. I had butterflies in my stomach because of the lack of familiarity. There was no one to aid me during class or extracurricular activities, something I hadn’t previously been accustomed to.

I had a chip on my shoulder because of my nontraditional background. I had not truly cemented the full idea and weight that I was now a man. I saw college as the first test of my manhood. My first year of school came with a few stumbles, however, I promised myself that I would not be a statistic. I wanted to be an example for those who will follow behind me.

Life is about choices.

I am not making a claim that not going college leads to disaster but I have seen the what happens when people (particularly Black males) don’t get the needed support. Support that we need to thrive. To be completely honest, there seems at times only a few avenues for Black men to become successful. I have seen what happens when people chase fast cash. I have seen what happens, when brothers do and do not have a solid plan for life.

Living in various neighborhoods, I seen many people just like me with unmatched potential and tools succumb to their decisions. Prison, drugs, and death was the only escape for brothers I grew up around, and knew on a first name basis. I felt the pain of seeing someone one weekend and never seeing them again the next. I have seen what a destructive environment and no guidance can do to a young man. I have seen temptation take away the brightest light, even when the brother had, what I perceived as, everything.

As Black men, I believe each of us has been tempted by life. The allure or trap of taking a glossier path, and being tricked into forgetting the important things in favor of temporary illusions. Especially in this current culture, where wrong choices are popularized. This is what gives me the passion to finish school.

I had many moments over the last year that I wish had been different. Many triumphs, but several bumps in the road to success as well.

One of the first major stumbles I faced, happened to me in the classroom. I have always been a great student, no matter the subject or degree of difficulty of the lesson. But I was having an extremely hard time grasping the course work for this particular math class. This class stood out because it was it was the first time I ever received a failing grade. Unfortunately, the failing grade came on a test that counted for a huge percent of my final grade.

I am not making a claim that not going college leads to disaster but I have seen the what happens when people (particularly Black males) don’t get the needed support.

After receiving the grade, I wanted to drop out. It was beyond the automatic “W” period (withdraw without penalty) and all I could do at that point was try to still finish the course or quit school altogether. I was both discouraged and disgusted by the results of what happened. Numerous classmates left the course with a failing grade but I had my own path to follow. I looked deep within myself to decide who I was as a person. Would I quit at the first sight of trouble or would I endure the tough times? I had to ask myself this questions several more times, as that one time was not the last I had to look within for answers.

Every time I wanted to quit, I knew I could not. I could not make any excuse or complaint that would justify not getting an education. Especially, when my ancestors died for me to be in this very position. Therefore, I knew I had to keep my priorities in front of me. Even when the fun route seemed the most appealing.

I had no regrets during my first semester other than I was having problems filling my frame. At least, I didn’t have a physical one but there were several obstacles from a mental and spiritual standpoint. I have always been mature, but still lacked what I perceived was the complete tools for a difficult journey. My awkward moments came and went.

One of the craziest moments I can recall happened in class again. During English, the class discussed Baltimore, Black Lives Matter, and stereotypes in America for an upcoming assignment surrounding these events. I was one of only two black kids in my class. Although it may sound strange, I had courses where I was the only black person in the room, or knew classes were my friends were the only black person in class. I am not saying that anything happened on a grand scale or I felt uncomfortable and lost. I am making the point that in 2016, classroom dynamics like the one detailed above still exist.

My second semester, which I am currently finishing, has without a doubt been less of an adjustment than the one before. Familiar faces and knowledge from past mistakes made this semester go faster than an elite NFL wide receiver running a deep-route. I am still trying to understand where the time went and what my next move is after a full year of constant headaches, processed food, and hours at the library.

I have always been mature, but still lacked what I perceived was the complete tools for a difficult journey. My awkward moments came and went.

During the year there were many moments, some lighter than others. Between classes I saw more eye candy than my heart could handle. Several times I got rejected after using cheesy pickup lines. And, I almost fell in love with a young lady I hung out with every day after class. In addition, I gained the famous “freshman fifteen.” Sleepless nights filled with studying combined with junk food took a slight toil on my body.

By the end of the year, I had an idea of who I was. I knew what I stood for and what my breaking points were. I created my own lane and smartly calculated the systemic, social structure of my school. I observed my environment and had a slight advantage other those who choose to stay glued to their cellphones. To gradually grow and progress is something that I cherish deeply. The ability to process and adapt. To truly learn these skills and apply them, made the pressures of college seems worth it.

I’m still trying to figure out who I am and what the journey of life means for me. So, I figure I will just keep moving forward. There is no reason for me to backtrack now. It is just time to keep my head up, do my best, and continuously ask God for guidance every day.

While in college, I learned something. I am alone. No matter how many friends I have, how close I am to an advisor, or the number of relationships I have with people who will eternally have my back, I am alone. I am in a foreign place and I must figure out who I am. I must learn how to use all of my traits and skills I have available to succeed.

I am not saying that friends and favors did not come in handy, no doubt that they did. However, if I purely take in the world with open arms, I will see a small or big bubble of life that is nothing like the movies.

I saw that the institution in which I learn and socialize at, has everything or anything I need (good or bad). That I could gain textbook knowledge, but lose spiritual faith. I can gain understanding of western civilization, but lose black consciousness. Or, the total opposite. I can come into the space with blind eyes, and after experiencing true adult situations, I can see the world for what it truly is about. Racism, student rallies, share life experiences at Black student unions, or just plain culture shock helped me develop a sense of the real world. I can see just how unfair the world is or how blurred the lines of life truly are. All of these things can happen.

I’m still trying to figure out who I am and what the journey of life means for me.

All of these things do happen, not all at once. But, once at a time. Unpredictable and swift, but all basically the same. Like a boxer, the shots can come in different variations. Uppercuts, jabs, hooks, and body shots. Each punch trying to slow you down, or get me to react. How I react will be the key. How I respond when I am cornered and how to continue on even when things seem unclear will help seal my fate.

One thousand percent, college is hard. As a black male, I think college can be even harder for us because it’s uncharted territory for us. During our childhood and adolescence, we must try to figure out how to be a man first and a student second. We are often doing both at times, without a specific example to model after. We must learn how to do everything ourselves, and with a certain numbness. A numbness that is so powerful, we at times forget to just observe, look around, and breathe.

Therefore, as I get back to the same place I was a year ago, I know in my heart that this specific place is gone. I know the grind will never stop and that my mind has had a taste of something different. I have no individual name for the new level of growth and personal position, but it is one that has forever changed me for the better.

With yet another generation of young black males to guide and mentor, the work to encourage as well as build the next generation of greatness never stops. It might sound crazy, but for this I am truly blessed and privileged. I have always been a hard worker, but this is another level of work and individual effort. I am looking forward to putting my new skills to test. I want to apply my new work ethic to something even greater than myself. I am leaving my freshman year with more situational knowledge and mental toughness, than ever before.

In closing, if any brother asks if going to college is a good idea I will, without a doubt, say yes. Life is about balance and if anyone can figure that part out, they will succeed in anything they want to do. I had to find balance in my own life. So, instead of just saying yes and talking about the importance of education, I will share my collegiate story.

By Darrell Forte

Darrell Forte is a college student, author of "50 Tips for Homeschooled Teens" and "40 Tips for Young African-American Males." He is an advocate for Young, Black Males like himself.