Opinion: The college journey is far from easy

Ray Strickland

As of right now, I am on track to graduate from Kent State at the end of this semester. If you would have told me this four or five years ago, my response would’ve been “no chance.” 

I’ve had the privilege to meet several people I aspire to be in the field of journalism: ESPN’s Chris Broussard to ABC’s Byron Pitts, to name a couple. I’ve interned and worked at well-respected news organizations in ESPN Cleveland, Voice of America and Akron’s 1590 WAKR.
I also was among the more than 20 students to have the opportunity to study in Washington, D.C. for a semester, as part of the program Washington Program in National Issues.
Many people expect to go to college, but as a young black male growing up in the inner city streets of America, it’s the complete opposite. 
I was fortunate to have many mentors who took me under their wing and showed me there was more to life than the city of Akron.
I worked at Robeks for nearly four years. I was the only black person there at one point.
It was uncomfortable, but the owner of the store, Kit Arn, gave me valuable advice: “If you hang around fools, you’ll be a fool. If you hang around successful people, you’ll be successful.”
He sparked a fire in me unlike anyone else outside my family could. In fact, I can argue he was the one to light the spark.
He essentially became one of the most important people in my life because I would not be in college if it wasn’t for him.
I was at a point in my 18-year-old life contemplating what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. The only school I applied to was Kent State and surprisingly, they accepted me. 
It was one of the best moments in my life.
The environment most of my friends and I grew up around was not predicated on your success in school. For me and my family, it was more of just surviving. There were times we couldn’t afford certain things and I certainly didn’t have a college savings fund waiting for me in the bank. Unfortunately, a number of blacks aren’t waiting for a college saving fund.
African-American families borrow the most out of any ethic group. Researchers at liberal think tank “Demos” found four out of five black graduates take out loans to attend public colleges, compared to less than two-thirds of whites.
To avoid confusion, my childhood was amazing because of my strong mother. If it wasn’t for my stepfather, I wouldn’t know where I would be. But, we continued to have setbacks — financial setbacks — like most black families do.
I was able to overcome that and all of the odds stacked against me, and was not influenced by the people in my community. I’m one of the lucky few. 
I’m one of the three people in my family to get to this point in my college career. I will be the third to graduate college. It’s a blessing, but also a curse. 
Being a young black man in America comes with a plight heavier than most people can carry. Some people can’t handle it and many succumb to the peer pressure around them. It’s easy to lose yourself in the streets and be something you are not. That’s taking the easy way out. I decided to be against that.
I’m here today because of my mother and stepfather and role models who gave me life-changing advice. I would like to reiterate not many young black man have done what I’ve done. 
If most young black kids have role models like I did, they could be college graduates as well. They could be on their way to a bachelor’s degree. 
Now that I’m a senior journalism major, awaiting to cross the stage, people need to understand life is not always about yourself. Yes, one is accountable for their actions, but the environment, people and resources all impact a person life success. 
Fortunately, I’ve had all of the above.
Ray Strickland is an opinion writer for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].