Letter: Inspiring black men to be both black and brilliant
By Justin Gardner, social relations and policy senior
I still remember the discouragement I felt as my high school counselor tried to sway me to not attend college. That following year I graduated high school with honors, later embarking on a journey to MSU's prestigious residential college of public affairs called James Madison College.
Being a first-generation college student, economically underprivileged and a black male, my challenges stretched beyond academics once enrolled in a predominantly white, middle-class institution.
However, excited to engage in campus organizations and conversations about social issues as a freshman I did not ponder if my various identities would govern how I matriculate through undergrad, but they did. A few weeks following my move in freshman year, a swastika was drawn on my dorm room door. After speaking with authorities, the feedback I received from both a police officer and my RA forced me into a state of desolation. Nevertheless, I became cognizant of my new environment, my position within as a student of color and how it differed from the place I call home.
A few days later I took it upon myself to transition to a different floor, but feeling marginalized and isolated reoccured throughout my collegiate career. In return it affected my grades, participation in class and my involvement on campus, each of which I’m so passionate about.
Yet, as I began to be mentored by James Madison faculty and formed my own small village on campus, I was not only able to stay enrolled in college but excel as well.
As my undergrad vocation comes to an end and I prepare myself to walk in May during the James Madison commencement ceremony, I reflect on the struggles I underwent but also my various successes. I have studied abroad twice, once as an international student at the elite University of Cambridge. I have worked alongside state legislature in the Michigan House of Representatives, served on numerous e-boards, received honors credits, held placement on the dean’s list repeatedly and currently work for Congress in our nation’s capital.
I hope my story encourages black men who find themselves questioning their own intelligence and their place in the world of academia. I hope my experience inspires black men who seek to close the education gap between themselves and their counterparts, both black women and non-blacks. For though society wants you to be one of the two, you can be both: black and brilliant.