When I started my college search, I was just short of clueless. I looked at gigantic state schools with over 30,000 students, military academies, small liberal arts schools from New England to California, and the southern historically black colleges and universities. Yet I still had no idea where I wanted to go for college - it just seemed so daunting at the time. My father referenced ‘Oberlin’ as a possibility, and my quick response was “Where?! Oo-ver-land? Ohio?”
My experience as a minority student at a high-pressure private school in D.C. did help me determine what I wanted in a college. I envisioned an environment in which I would be free to grow academically, personally, socially, and professionally.
As time went on, my father forced me onto one of Oberlin’s ‘fly-in’ programs. I dragged my feet all the way from Baltimore-Washington International to Oberlin’s campus in northeast Ohio. We arrived on campus around two or three. By the same time the next day, I got on the phone with my father and let him know that this was where I was going to college. There was something very special about the energy that the students, professors and residents brought to this otherwise sleepy town, and I could sense it almost immediately.
Everyone on and around campus was amicable, passionate and unique. Unlike the other schools I had visited, it seemed like every student had his or her interests that they fervently pursued, and would go through great lengths to encourage and help their peers flourish in the pursuit of their interests. I had found a school where I could play varsity lacrosse (everyone knows O.C. Lax is where it’s at!), be involved with various student organizations, pursue my technical theater hobby, and develop my passion for politics. In terms of politics, I was able to develop and nourish my own political thoughts, ambitions and theories. As it turns out, I’m not as “liberal” as I’d originally thought! I strongly believe that without Oberlin, I would not have arrived at that conclusion.
Perhaps most significantly, I was able to create lifelong relationships with people from a wide swath of backgrounds and curiosities. At Oberlin, I could just discover and be myself, and befriend all sorts of people while doing so.
Oberlin made an enormous impression on my professional and personal life, sparking my thirst for knowledge and truth. I knew that whatever I did after graduation from Oberlin, it had to be intellectually stimulating, challenging and positive. Oberlin instills in each student a dedication to improving the lives of others and I was no different. I continue to incorporate my four years of experiences, friendships, and quests to improve the lives of the less fortunate into my everyday life while working in the U.S. House of Representatives.
At Oberlin, I realized I could do something. During freshman year winter term, a few classmates and I duplicated Barbara Ehrenreich’s experiment from her book Nickel and Dimed. We lived for six weeks working and living on minimal wage in Richmond, Virginia. We slept in a seedy, roach-filled and rodent-infested motel just off a major highway in a not-so-nice area of Richmond. All of our ‘neighbors’ were renting weekly, some daily. It was a difficult experience to say the least, and we were only there for six weeks. I was the only black male on the trip - and the only person unable to find a job. My other female friends on the trip found minimum wage employment at Taco Bell. In the stress-filled environment of our humble motel room, I developed thoughts that had been brewing for years. I wanted to use my fortunate situation to positively affect those who were not as fortunate.
For a young college graduate originally from D.C., working with the House of Representatives seemed like a ‘no brainer.’ Everything fell into place- I spent almost a year in the office of Edolphus Towns, Representative for Brooklyn, New York. Now, I work for him on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. On Capitol Hill, I’ve been involved in many different initiatives and projects to, directly and indirectly, improve the lives of others.
Every step of the way, I talk about Oberlin with everyone, from strangers on the subway, to a Member of Congress who exclaimed “Welcome Obie!” with a warm smile. As I continue on my way though the next few chapters of life, I try to maintain that very Oberlin spirit and warmth that I found to be so irreplaceable over the years.