Feven Ezra, San Francisco State University alumna
Fresh out of your undergraduate years of college and you realize you still are not experienced enough to change the world, but you have lived through many experiences that make you believe otherwise. Where does one seek experience, especially if the corporate world is not a beneficial place for you? Employers say a minimum 3 years of experience and a bachelor's degree is all you need. You have the bachelor's degree, but you find yourself restless about your lack of experience in the workforce. I bring this to light because I don’t think we have highlighted the postgraduate trial and tribulations that come with the accomplishments and excitement endured during graduation. Now it is time that we ask ourselves, how far will we reach to navigate the corporate world until we finally seek our truth?
For those of us that have obtained the privilege of receiving higher education, many of us have also been involved in groups or associations that are made up of Black collectives and cater to the Black experience. We were able to find our “island within” a term coined by W.E.B Du Bois as he talks about his experience studying at Harvard University (Black Campus Movement, 2012). The Black spaces created by us, along with our Africana study courses, have showcased ways that galvanize us to seek agency within ourselves. This prime notion has nourished our drive to succeed in college, but most importantly to become active members of our community. As for myself, motivation in and out of the classroom has come out of my Africana study courses. The knowledge I was able to acquire has only strengthened my connection to my community. Holistically, it's important to note Africana study courses teach us to not assimilate, compromise, or ever lose sight of our agency.
I graduated with determination and resilience, two critical characteristics that surfaced out of my experience in our current society and my Africana study courses. As I looked at the workforce for guidance I knew that my focus would be working with a community that represents me. In reality that was not the case. I was seeking jobs in environments that disconnected me from my experiences at home and my community. Although the pay was greatly livable, it was not nourishing my spirit. My reality can look different for someone who is indigent and needs to make ends meet. That is valid in any case that we do have bills to pay and a roof to maintain over our heads and so a job we can get is often the one that we will take. For the sake of the message, I would like to shift our focus onto this fact; we should not have to settle into job sectors that detach us from our believes and commitment to the community that we seek to transform growth in. This is not a new idea, it may just be a conversation that hasn’t been able to be had because we are too busy thinking it.
Before we enter college, from the time we were in grade school, the toxic notion of success has been engrained in our brain cells. This is a peculiar kind of success, often called the “ladder of success” which translates to pull yourself up by your bootstraps type of success. This was dangerous to our adolescent self and it becomes dangerous to our mental health as we grow to become adults. As this notion of success leads us to seek jobs outside of our community, we lose sight of how hard we have worked to strengthen our knowledge while acquiring skills of critical thinking and problem-solving. Our society has made it easier for us to acquire jobs in places that conform us to a world outside of our own, an example is corporate America. This awareness has left me stranded. I have played tug of war with the conversations going on in my head and today I believe it is the right time to share my experience.
I made a decision to leave a job that showed no connection to my personal growth let alone the growth of my community. Within making that decision I had to put myself aside and think about the world around me. I am a Black woman first and that can not be denied nor overlooked in the spaces I choose to work. I graduated with hopes of seeking grad school, but for the time being, I needed a job to keep me on my foot. I relied on job agencies to find me a desirable job that connects to my interests. My job search has only proven to me that the majority of the jobs I will find will be in spaces that make me feel underrepresented, a “minority”. I can’t say this is the experience for all undergraduates but maybe it is something we choose to not disclose. This path can go very differently if I was willing to enter any occupation for the time being but that is not the case. I have spent four years knowing my history and that has only liberated me to seek opportunities in places that represent me. The question I now am seeking an answer for is, how do I gain experience while staying true to myself? The reality is we all want to make money and often times money can only be found in job sectors that drive you away from your community. Once I graduated I was reminded of a very important lesson; college is a tool that one can advantageously use to create in whatever aspect one desires. I am an Afrikana woman living amongst a society that has more times than not left me disintegrated and through that college is where I found my place in this world. The spaces that students not only create, but demand to have while immolating their education has birthed me, and the professors have challenged me with fortifying knowledge that till this day carves the path to reclaiming my agency.
I ended my final semester with a drive to contribute to my community and in no way was I going to settle for less. Now that I have stepped out of this institution I almost felt defeat. My hopelessness was only temporary because I was reminded of my role in this world. Today I want to remind the graduates that may be in my position or those that have not yet graduated but will soon. Education is the key to changing systems that go against us, but don’t let education change you. Education is a tool that one has the privilege of receiving and for that reason, it is pivotal that we share it with our communities. It is likely to think that a worldview imposed by the White race can’t do much harm to their personal understanding of education but it has impacted the White race just as it has impacted people of Afrikana descent. For example, the European worldview has thrived off spreading false ideologies pertaining to the social hierarchy of the White race within education. In the beginning chapters of The Black Campus Movement Ibram H. Kendi explains to us the first debate about Black education, “Joining the egalitarian elites in opposition to the colonizationist and accommodating separatists were some white abolitionists, or paternal liberals, who believed they were innately endowed with a civil or Christian mission to lift African Americans from their degradation by means of a liberal method--education for domestic civil equality”( Kendi, 2012).This battle for power between opposing groups of White men who have one thing in common--the urgency to convey dictatorship over Black people only worsened within the sphere of education.
Worldview dictates the function of education for whites differently than it does for people of African descent. As I mentioned above, the European worldview projected within educational institutions has fed and continues to feed white people false ideologies of themselves creating a racial hierarchy. The same worldview projected upon Black people creates an invisible ladder of success that is merely achievable in order to feel equal.The functions and purpose of education is to help us change the world we live in while understanding where we come from. Education can be used as a form of suppression or liberation depending on the narrative being taught to us. The fight for Africana Studies and Ethnic Studies has been never ending because of the function and purpose they serve, while these stems of education uphold the African worldview, it also guides us toward collective empowerment.