How does a young brother like myself get to Oberlin? More importantly, why? I’ll admit, when I visited Oberlin for the first time in the spring of 2014, I hated it. I remember skipping one of my scheduled meetings to go shoot some shots at the basketball court in Philips gymnasium. After some time, the small college town grew on me, and I loved it.
The transition from high school to undergrad was a tough one. As a first-generation college student, matriculating into Oberlin College meant that both my family and I will obtain the college experience at the same time. See, college was nothing but a distant thought growing up, but it became a reality in 2014. So, again, how and why did I go to Oberlin?
Here’s HOW: Posse.
The Posse Foundation is a national nonprofit organization that provides four-year full-tuition leadership scholarships, additional mentorship and resources, and 9 to 10 colleagues who you go to college with, as a Posse. In fact, the founder of Posse, Deborah Bial “proposed a model to identify promising students from…urban backgrounds using an alternative set of qualities as predictors of success in college” aside from the traditional standardized test and GPA standards. The inception of Posse came from the idea that if any student had a Posse with them throughout their collegiate journey, they would graduate. This is integral to their philosophy. Visit the website to learn more about it.
It took three high-stakes interviews and eighteen years of life experiences to get Posse (shoutout to Posse 8) and eventually attend Oberlin. You get to choose three of the schools Posse partners with. Oberlin was my second choice. The University of Wisconsin-Madison was the first and Pomona College my third. I chose Oberlin as one of my top three because of its academic curriculum built on the values of critical thinking and its small classroom environment.
When I received the phone call right after the third interview during the winter of 2013, the Posse trainers and Oberlin representatives asked for my feedback on the final interview process. Startled, I gave them my feedback. To my surprise, the next words were: “CONGRATULATIONS! You--.“ Actually, my mind went blank then. I was in shock. I froze for about ten seconds before I responded with gratitude. I should tell my parents. Wait, but how am I going to tell them I’ll be moving to Ohio? To be honest, I should’ve been thinking about how I would be able to make the move to a small rural college town in Ohio.
But here’s WHY: My parents.
This short journey from Chicago to Ohio didn’t seem like a big deal to them. They emigrated to the US from Mexico in the late 1980s. That journey was much longer and harder. When I complained to them how difficult it would be to go from the block we live at in Little Village to the small rural town in Ohio, they made me realize how fortunate I was that I knew what my destination was and what it looked like. They didn’t have that privilege. Many immigrant narratives do not include planned destinations other than going ‘north’ or traveling out to the US mainland.
Both of my parents are two of the hardest working people I’ve ever known. They’ve worked a myriad of different jobs and have learned various unique skills in the process. But they came to the US in search for better social conditions and economic opportunities. Unfortunately, access to a ‘formal’ American education was scarce for first-generation immigrants. Despite knowing this and understanding that systemic inequality barred them from obtaining an education in the US, my parents valued education more than anything.
I didn’t buy it at first. School was boring. I hated it and so did many of my classmates. But they instilled in me two vital qualities needed for learning: critical thinking and problem solving. I was always a thinker and always asked questions. I liked to solve things like adding up the cost of groceries in my head to make sure we didn’t surpass our budget or offering advice to others. I developed these qualities and teachers persistently pushed me to apply them in school coursework. I did this and it helped me do better in school.
My motivation to come to one of the most prestigious liberal arts college in the country came from the familial lineage of movement and knowledge that my parents passed down to me. Only this time it was an academic journey. A journey supported and funded by Oberlin and Posse.
For what it’s worth, I gave Oberlin an opportunity to grow on me, and it did. As a former Obie and lifetime friend of mine said, “Oberlin wasn’t my first choice, but it was the best choice.” A choice that has transformed an urban city kid into a small town academic scholar.