Journey to Manhood

Image by Mark Sebastian via Flickr
At the age of 22, fresh out of college and starting my career, I think about how many young African-American men didn’t have the opportunities I have had or didn’t make it as far as I have at this point their lives. I know many young men who dropped out of school, couldn’t afford school, had children, have been incarcerated, or just gave up because of the odds stacked against them. It has never been said that the journey of a black man has been easy, and while there are many that don’t make it, there are many that do.

I knew that it was not my destiny to just get a day-to-day job, live paycheck-to-paycheck, and work until I die. No, I was lucky that my parents always pushed for ambition in my development. Being raised in the red clay of Atlanta, it was not hard to find racism in my schools, peers, government, or in daily life. It would have been easy to give in, give up and just be average. But that is not me.

Ever since I can remember, my parents always held me to a higher standard and pushed me as far as I could and to be the best I could be. There was one thing I was told every day growing up: “I can do all things through Christ who strengths me.” -Philippians 4:13

So when it came time for me to step out into the world, I knew that God and my family were on my side and nothing could stop me from achieving the goals I wanted to achieve. Four years ago, I began a journey that would challenge me, shape me, and help me grow into the man I am today. That journey was pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Florida State University.

It has never been said that the journey of a black man has been easy, and while there are many that don’t make it, there are many that do.

My journey at FSU was like many others: four years of hard work, dedication, little sleep, and even a little fun sprinkled on top. Now, as I begin the next chapter of my life, I find myself looking at how I got here. When I chose FSU, with its over 40,000 students, I knew I had to stand out to make a name for myself. Becoming a part of so many organizations, mentoring programs, volunteering opportunities, events, and workshops helped me shape what I wanted to do and who I wanted to become on my journey to manhood. There were many times where I wondered if my hard work and dedication would pay off, and there were even times when it took failure to move me into the direction I needed to be. This included full course loads every semester, belonging to eight organizations, holding down two jobs, landing two internships, preparing hundreds of presentations, events, hundreds of hours of volunteering, and very little sleep. And I repeat, it included failure.

This was a word with which I was not familiar and something I was never accustomed to experiencing. From being an International Baccalaureate Program graduate with numerous high school accolades to getting into all eight universities I applied for, I thought I was immune to failure. But it is true that I did not complete the major I thought was my calling since the age of ten (biomedical engineering). But when I really think back on it, when I was in those classes, I knew it wasn’t for me. The worst part of those two years was that it was my only plan going into college and I had no backup.

Somehow, I stumbled upon the Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) Program. From that point forward, I became a new young man. I reapplied myself in my studies and found new organizations I could grow with and help me network for my future. Needless to say, switching to the College of Communication and Information was the best decision I could have ever made while at FSU. It was an entirely different atmosphere as an ICT major. I made more friends my second go-round as a first semester student than I had made in two years as an engineer.

There, I learned not only the skills I needed to be competitive in the workforce academically, but how to communicate, how to be a leader, and most importantly, how to leave a legacy. It was under the guidance of amazing mentors like deans Ebe Randeree and Larry Dennis, growing as a member of organizations such as the Association of Information Technology Professionals, volunteering and mentoring with the STARS Alliance, FITC, the Community Outreach Group, and others that I became the man I am today. It was all a combination of the pride instilled in me by my parents and the opportunities and expectations of my mentors and peers at FSU. The intellectuals I surrounded myself with throughout my collegiate career were very supportive of each other, but we also pushed each other to be the best we could be.

There were many times where I wondered if my hard work and dedication would pay off, and there were even times when it took failure to move me into the direction I needed to be.

I was able to travel throughout the country to present on various topics, speak with IT professionals, CEOs, CIOs, senior managers, alumni, and K-12 and collegiate students, and learn from them and their experiences. This enabled me to formulate and sharpen my communication, leadership, teamwork, presentation, and mentoring skills. These are the things that pushed me over the top in transitioning into the workforce.

I recently graduated with a bachelors degree in Information, Communication and Technology with a certificate in Healthcare Informatics, and I’m currently employed with General Motors as a software developer working on SharePoint. My new journey is just beginning.

Every day, I am learning more about who I am and what I want to become in life. Every day, I challenge myself to grow in some way. To me, each small step in the right direction is a victory. As long as I’m moving forward toward my dreams, no matter how small the step gets me, I’m that much closer to where I want to be in life. While I continue on my journey, if I could give any piece of advice to those just starting their journey from high school, college, or even at a point in their lives where they don’t want to be it would be this:

Keep pushing. Sometimes that means when no one else is around to push you, you have to look inside yourself and push yourself to always keep moving toward your goals.

Motivate yourself. When others doubt you or call you crazy or say it cannot be done, use that. Use that as motivation to prove them wrong.

Never give up. Failure is absolute if you let it be. It is not an end of a dream; it just means there is another way that your dream can be accomplished. Every day is a chance to make progress. If you make progress every day no matter how small it is, that day was not in vain.

By Russ Hill, Jr.

Russ is currently a software developer for General Motors Arizona IT Innovation Center. Recently, he graduated from Florida State University with a B.S. in Information, Communication and Technology and a certification in Healthcare Informatics. A dynamic and award-winning leader and communicator, Russ' passion is to help companies with developing and integrating technologies to improve the livelihood of the world.