I graduated from a high school that, in 2019, had a college readiness index of 9.8 out of 100. I went to that high school for two years and in those years I had friends arrested, saw people badly beaten, and countless unplanned teen pregnancies. I had a friend in high school who was being recruited to play football by a few lower-level schools. One day he told me he wasn’t going to college and never gave an explanation. I found out a year later the reason he wasn’t going to college was because he had a son. Many athletes found structure in their respective sports, but many of them, even though they have displayed great talent in sports, never go on to college.
One conversation I will never forget is when I was talking to a friend in the lunchroom and a teacher called me over. The teacher looked at me and said, “Tim, why are you hanging out with him? He’s a gangbanger. Don’t hang out with him.” That teacher didn’t know that this friend looked up to me and that I was tutoring him in calculus, which we shared together. I was also teaching him about academic options that would benefit his future. The teacher didn’t want to reach out to the student and help him. He just looked at my friend as a gangbanger, and not as a student, and that’s where it ended.
When I got to Oberlin College I saw how attending a prestigious college could change someone’s life for the better. As I was going through my freshman year, I thought about all those kids who I went to high school with in Baltimore who didn’t know this world of higher-level education existed and never would know. I grew determined to bring students from my old high school to Oberlin so that they could better themselves and change their lives for the better.
When I took action and tried to get students from Baltimore to come to Oberlin I discovered a major problem -- no one had the grades to get into the school. This isn’t a reflection of their intelligence, though; I know this from first-hand experience. The kids were smart but the school system that surrounded them was a failed model. On top of that, they receive little to no mentorship. They have no guidance, and socially it was cool just to be out in the hallway hanging out with friends instead of being in class, so their grades suffer. As if that isn’t enough, from the moment students walk in the door they are encouraged by school administration to set their sights on attending the local community college. They only tell students about two-year degree options because they tell us that it is affordable. However, what they never tell students about are the many colleges, like Oberlin, that have need-blind admissions -- colleges that meet one hundred percent of students’ financial need. As students are not aware of their options, when it’s time to graduate they don’t have the grades to get into most four-year institutions. They don’t even have the grades to get academic scholarships. Students look at their options and unfortunately, there aren’t many. In my opinion, this is why so many students go on to work a minimum wage job instead of pursuing higher education. They are set up to fail from the very start.
I encourage anyone that reads this to go out and join a mentorship program. I encourage you to help low-income students in America. For example. I am a part of Ninde Scholar Tutors, which is a program at Oberlin where college students tutor and mentor local low-income high school students. Just the simple act of giving these kids information on what options they actually have can do so much for them. Showing these kids that it is possible to leave their situation can make a big impact on them. These are students who, for their whole academic career, have been told to settle. I don’t want low-income students to learn to settle any longer. I want them to strive for their full potential in everything they do in life. I want them to make it to the Oberlin Colleges of the world. My goal is to provide these students with hope. I hope you join me on this mission.