Updated: Sep 23, 2021
Disclaimer: This blog post serves as a narrative that exists for my personal life. I am speaking about my experiences as a student, Admissions Officer and now School Administrator. Any similarities and parallels that are found with the words in this blog are intentional, on purpose and direct to the issue at hand. I am a Black man. I am the product of Sheila and Stanley Lee. My dad was born and raised in Baltimore, MD; my mom was born and raised in Nashville, TN. My parents represent two civil servants with approximately forty years combined of service at the time of their retirement.
Growing up, it was apparent that my parents placed an extremely high value on my education. This value was so high, they were willing to sacrifice my comfort level of being home with them, in order to allow me to attend an independent boarding school that is best labeled as Predominantly White Institution (PWI). I attended this school on financial aid.
My parents did their best to prepare me for the real world. I remember having these heavy, adult-like conversations at dinner with my parents. They let me know that I would be away from the safety of their protection; I’d be called something other than my birth given name; I‘d be giving up my diverse friendships from home; I‘d be one of a few black students; I’d be representing black students overall; I’d be unhappy at times; I’d be placed in classes, dormitories, teams and etc. where students and the adults at the school would not share my culture or life experiences.
My parents finished this tough conversation with the statements of, “we love you and only want the best for you. We will always only be a phone call away. This will make you stronger and set you up for life!”
My parents knew that in order to provide what they believed to be the best advantage for their Black son, a part of my identity had to suffer and be compartmentalized. Their vision was to use my acceptance to this PWI as a means to be in a class of a hundred students versus a class of a thousand at the local public school in Alexandria, VA. I first learned of the imposter syndrome as I questioned my value versus a thought of filling the status quo. The Sacrifice
After attending my PWI a high school, I attended another PWI for college on a full academic scholarship. Based upon the astute preparation of my parents, the negative and positive experiences of my PWI high school, I would say that I was well-prepared for the surroundings of my college. Once again, the imposter syndrome returned based upon my acceptance, academic scholarship and arrival to college.
After graduating from college I worked in the private sector as a contractor and Project Manager. I quickly learned that it was important to return to the conversations and now muscle member instilled within me thanks to the foresight of my parents. I learned to work and heard my parents words of you must work twice as hard as your White colleagues and not expect accolades in return.
I have now worked at various PWIs for the last five years. My roles have changed at the different schools but my training from my parents rings true, even at the age of being almost forty. The sting and discomfort of being the outsider, the other, the only is still present. Does it hurt any less than it did twenty-four years ago? Yes and no would be the answer. Yes because I am a human with emotions and feelings. No because I’ve experienced all too much of the same narrative in various phases of life.
So where do I go from here? Only time will tell. This journey is a journey that I do not travel alone on. I have my lovely wife, my family, and those that I truly trust. Every morning, two people remind me of a pending sacrifice that I must make. My two children will one day be old enough and ready for the heavy, adult-like conversations at dinner with their parents.
My closing question to you, when, how, and what can break this cycle?