Yes, I am Going to Harvard…But There’s More to the Story

Disclaimer: I started writing this in March, but for a number of reasons, I didn’t finish until now!

Today is Wednesday, March 22nd and literally 10 minutes ago I received news that I was accepted into the third and final grad school to which I applied: UPenn. That’s 3 for 3 on the Ivy Leagues: Columbia, UPenn, and Harvard. That’s enough to shout right there, especially knowing that it truly was all God…

Why do I always attribute everything to God? I remember posting something awhile ago and someone commented that the successes we have is not because of God, but because of our hardwork, effort and skill. Sadly, yet somewhat understandably, many of us feel this way – even I used to. However, it can lead to a dangerous ideology that leads to pride and self-centeredness. (Trust me, that was me and I didn’t like it) To answer that question though: Revelations 12:11 says that “[we] overcome by the blood of the Lamb (aka Jesus) and the word of our testimony.”

So, I want to share my story in hopes that it empowers you to fully walk in the promise that God has a plan for your life.

With the acceptance into those Ivy Leagues, it’s easy to only see a model of success. Those that know me would also speak about my confidence, intellect, and musical talents. While those are all nice, and folks often like to just ask about the success, I want to speak on character and purpose. Believe it or not, much of my life was spent comparing myself to others, trying to find worth and validation in academics, and a hidden battle with mental wellness (depression) all because I couldn’t wrap my head around, “What purpose do I serve? Why am I here?”

Some would say I grew up in unfortunate circumstances. Long story short, my biological parents made some mistakes, which led to my siblings and I being placed in foster care and taken in by my grandparents (more on that soon). So from the start, I was born into illegitimate circumstances.

[Sidenote: I am deviating but I feel in my Spirit to write this because someone needs it: everything about the conditions I grew up in was a “valid” reason to abort me, but I thank God that he had another plan in mind. I don’t know who this is for, but God sees that you may be hurting or in a difficult spot in life, but please know that He has a plan for you and your children’s children. Please don’t give up.] 

Back to the story…so yes, illegitimate circumstances. I grew up hating that I was in foster care. I felt stained, unworthy, a social outcast. Elementary school was rough because teachers always asked folks to bring in baby photos, but I didn’t have any. My friends would tell stories of when they were born, early memories, and more. I grew silent in the unfamiliar, and began to question my own existence.

My grandparents always kept us in church and I loved being there. Seriously from a young age, I loved Bible stories because I saw myself in them. Joseph was an outcast and hated by his siblings. Can’t lie and say I didn’t feel that way at times. Moses, too, was born in unfortunate circumstances (literally sent down a river to escape death), and later asked God, “Why use me when there are more qualified folks”. The list goes on.

I didn’t fully quite comprehend words like “calling” and “purpose.” I just knew without a doubt that God loved me and sent His son Jesus to die for me. I knew that, no denying it. However, I couldn’t see myself the way God saw me. I only saw flaws and the things I lacked. Faith kept me in the presence of God, yet pride began to dictate my worth as I never wanted to feel weak and unwanted.

School became my drug. I wasn’t the coolest kid or the most athletic, but I found validation in being smart. I felt good to receive awards and praise. School had become the one thing I could control. It became my obsession. Nothing wrong with loving school, but as I look back, it was unhealthy and divisive because I wanted to be better than other people. I disassociated myself from those who weren’t “smart.” I had no problem being put on a pedestal, while my brother was demeaned and criticized for not being like me. This distorted effort to liberate myself became an oppressive tool towards others.

Fast forward to senior year of high school. I received over 15 scholarships. My teachers invested in me. They told me I was different, special, not like the other students. So, I believed it. So, as you can imagine, I went to college with all the confidence in the world. However, by the end of freshman year, I wanted to drop out. Rather than seeing all of my classmates as exceptional and making sure we excelled together, I was tokenized and treated as the exception. I sat in this unfamiliar place wondering where all the people of color were, where the familiarity of home went. Perhaps, I should’ve reminded myself that a couple months before, I had gladly turned my back on the very people that I needed to survive.

First lesson, you need people. We all do. God created us to coexist with each other and to commune, learn from, interact with one another. I see too many people with a “I gotta do me” mentality. TBH, a lot of it stems from insecurities and fear of being hurt, let down, etc. I get it and I empathize. Please take it from me that it can lead you down a path of constantly having to prove your worth to everyone and yourself.

Did you know that I graduated undergrad with a ton of awards, stoles, recognition, and more, yet found myself so lonely when I was by myself. I had place my worth in titles and possessions, rather than seeing God’s grace and favor in others.

This past Sunday, the pastor was speaking all kinds of life into me with these points:

  1. “Don’t just endure God’s instruction, learn to enjoy it. It’s the difference between living in pride or humility.” It’s saying, “Lord, this does not always make sense to me, but it’s not about me. I want to learn more about your heart, your plans, your desires, and fully trust in you.”
  2. Pride is about position and status. Humility is about a posture that says no matter where I am, no matter my status, no matter what comes my way, my reaction and reliance on God will remain the same.

“You can be around the things of God and still miss the presence and power of God. Judas is an example of that. Proximity doesn’t matter; it’s about posture.”

(5/9/17 Update)

So, yes! I am going to Harvard and will earn my Ed.M in Higher Education. I will also be graduating with a 4.0 GPA in 4 days from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, earning my Masters in Environment and Resources. This Black boy from the Southside of Chicago defied the odds, all to the glory of God. I pray that this find its way into the minds and hearts of Black and Brown boys all over the nation. This isn’t the typical, “if I can do it, you can do it” speech. Rather, it’s a reminder that God has a plan for your life, despite your circumstances, so hold firm to His promises and never let anyone put a glass ceiling above you.

God had a plan for me before I even knew who I was. He knew my thoughts and desires before I could even speak (Psalms 139). I have no idea what my experience will be like. There are still a ton of unknowns: I don’t have a place, I had to take out loans (still looking for scholarships), and more. However, I know that He is with me always and will never leave or forsake me. This is the promise that He gives us. Did you know that God says we are precious to Him.

This post has been 3 months in the making, but I believe that it will speak to the hearts of folks. Lastly, drop a comment below and let me know how I can be praying for you. I ask that you do the same for me.

Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Much love,

Dantrell

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Have You Prayed About It?

Reflection time: Today at church we not only sang about testimonies and how we all have them, but the pastor encouraged us to pray more because prayer has the ability to do things that human effort cannot. So here’s my testimony:

So, around 4pm, as I was working on my thesis (about 25 pages), I spilled coffee over my keyboard and trackpad. Immediately, my trackpad stopped working…like mannequin challenge still. So many questions ran through my mind: Did I save my work? Is this backed up? What will happen if this computer crash?

Immediately, I prayed, “Jesus, please let this trackpad work long enough for me to save my document and send it to my email. I declare this in your name, Amen.” I promise you that it instantaneously began to work and I logged in my email long enough to send it to myself. Kid you not, right after I sent it, it stopped working again.

I shut the computer down and prayed once more, “Lord, your Word tells me in Matt 6:27 not to worry, for you have everything in control. I don’t know what’s next for my computer, my written work, or long-term, but I am trusting in you.” I made up in my mind that my mood and attitude would not change despite the unknowing outcome.

Two hours later, I am writing this on my coffee-scented computer. My paper is saved (and backed up now), and my sanity is in tact all because I trusted God and went to Him in prayer.

I truly believe that sometimes we are tested so God can see how we will react in the situation. The Word tells us that these tests build our perseverance and faith (James 1). When circumstances come our way: Will we continue to trust Him? Will we pray about “problems” to Him, seriously believing the He can do all things? Will our attitude and motivation remain thankful, even while we wait on the outcome?

I don’t know who this is for, but I share today’s testimony to encourage a brother or sister going through something as small as a coffee-spill to a major life crisis. Keep believing in God and know that prayer works. I now understand when my mom would ask, “Have you prayed about it yet?”

Two things: 1) pray over all your situations and know that God grants us access to talk to Him about ANYTHING. 2) Keep your posture and attitude positive even in the midst of whatever is going on in and around you. Stay encouraged friends and family.

-Dantrell

It’s the Small Things that Brings Joy

So this morning I grabbed a banana and an orange for breakfast and left for campus. All of a sudden I had a taste for a sausage egg and cheese sandwich from a coffee shop. I asked my roommate to drop me off on State Street. As I am walking to get my sandwich, I see a man in need asking if anyone had something to give. Initially, I thought “naw, I’m sorry I don’t” (side note, why do we always have auto reply responses when it comes to helping others?). Then I looked at my bag and said, “I have fruit…do you like fruit?” He replied, “do you have a banana?” Excitedly I said, “yes” and gave it to him. His face lit up like a kid receiving the best Christmas gift. I thank God I was at the right place at the right time.

Then I wondered, what could this man (who didn’t have much) teach us about life? Do you have those banana moments, excited at the small things? Here this man was destitute and out in the cold, yet he had more joy than I see in the most privileged individuals.

Two things: first, I didn’t know I would be a blessing to this man but on my way from point A to point B, I was open to being used. So important to not be so stuck on yourself that you miss a chance to bless others. Secondly, this gentleman reminds us that joy and gratitude doesn’t come from the possessions or circumstances we are in, but rather by the compassion of others and recognition & appreciation for the little things.

Please, always remember those in need and remember that your small act means the world to someone.

-Dantrell

A Reflection on Worship

First off, Happy New Years!!!
Sitting here in Starbucks writing and reflecting on the fact that nothing renders the feeling of pure joy and wholeness than worshipping God…not my relationship, my studies, my music…nothing. God’s presence is the only place I feel complete 100% of the time. It’s the ultimate recharging station! I’m learning more and more that worship isn’t just that “thing” you do at church and it’s not exclusive to singing and dancing. It’s an everyday posture of gratefulness that reaffirms that whatever life brings, the response is always that God is in control and has a plan for our lives.
So keep worshipping: in the coffee shop when a random thought pass your mind, as you walk down the street and you realize the beauty of the Earth, as you celebrate the accomplishments of others, when you’re extended grace or offered forgiveness, in breath itself, in joy and sorrow, in the simplest of things.
Worship changes how see the world and treat people. It grants more territory to walk in your purpose. Worship utilizes our skills and talents to sustain love, peace and joy in a world that’s in dire need of it.
God’s Word says that if we don’t worship him, that’s cool because the rocks and trees will do it. So, I thank you Lord that we get to praise you and find new reasons everyday to love on you because your mercies are new everyday.
1 Chronicles 16:23-25
23 Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day. 24 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. 25 For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.
Psalms 86: 9-10
9 All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name. 10 For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God.
Psalms 100
1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. 2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. 3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his ; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. 5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
-Dantrell Cotton

“At Least Recognize Me”

Romans 12 tells us: “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

Paul reminds us to not be so prideful that we are not “willing to associate with people of lower positions and status.” What a great reminder. This includes the individuals who are homeless that you walk past everyday, and the men and women selling Street Pulse. Even if you have nothing to give, say hello, look them in the eye, and at least acknowledge that their presence is very real.

I remember hearing a story where an individual who was homeless said, “I understand if you don’t want to give. That’s cool. That’s not the part that hurts. It’s when people walk past as if I don’t even exists. How do I find my worth in that. Now that’s inhumane.”

Here’s a simple challenge: I remember reading a Street Pulse and at the back of it, there were the names of all those who sold the papers. I made an effort to learn their names. And when I would past them, I would greet them by name. The joy of hearing your name and being acknowledged by name. Something we easily take for granted. Saying someone’s name elevated them to a place of, “I see you…you are alive and very real to me.” To this day, even when I don’t have anything to give, I say, “thank you ‘insert name, have a blessed day.”

I see joy and life and love despite their circumstances. To be honest, some of them have more joy and practice the love of God more than we do.

The Bible says beware how you treat people because you may be entertaining angels. What if your blessing that you are desperately waiting for or the words of encouragement you need is in the hands and mouth of the individual you avoid? You may not have anything to give, but today let’s be more cognizant to recognize those that are often neglected and forgotten.

Just Accept It…God Chose You!

Christians are often asked, “What’s your favorite book of the Bible?” and “Which Biblical person(s) do you most identify with?” as if this was ever an easy decision! Growing up, the answers to these two questions changed depicted how I felt/who had the super dope story. When I felt abandoned, it was Job; when I was understanding worship, it was David; when I wanted to be fearless, it was Daniel; when I wanted to be used, it was Samuel; when I felt unworthy to be used because of ways I’ve denied Christ, it was Peter. Those weren’t necessarily “bad” reasons. They were very true for me at that time in life. However, I am firm in my current choices.

Favorite Book: Acts. Seriously, read Luke then Acts (Biblical scholars believe these books were written back to back and it actually reads much better this way). It’ll change how you see Christ life, His mission and His call for us to step up and live out grace, so others can experience the fullness of joy. Acts is amazing for so many reasons. First, we see the Holy Spirit descend upon the early Christians (Acts 2) and they are given abilities to speak in every language (don’t confuse this with speaking in tongues aka Heavenly language); they literally were speaking French, Italian, Spanish, Mandarin, etc. It is clear this was a foreshadow of Christ revealing that the Gospel as for all nations, all people, using every language. We also see the first matyr, Stephen, who was stoned to death for believing in Christ. Could you believe his last words were, “Lord, receive my Spirit…[and] do not hold this sin against them”(Acts 7).

Moreover, I love this book because we learn about Paul, my favorite person. Paul represents boldness like I’ve never seen before. He is the epitome of instant transformation (Acts 8). When I used to think of Paul, I used to imagine him with fine robes, a great orator and a well-groomed man. Actually…not the case. He was beaten (numerous times), stoned so bad they thought he was dead, and imprisoned A LOT. In fact, in 1 Corinthians, he self-describes his situation: “To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.” This is the Paul I love reading about because it shows the boldness and selflessness of his life. Think about it, if a person is willing to go through all of that just so you and I can hear about life and freedom in Christ, wouldn’t you want to hear them out.

Anyway, this is the message that I wanted to emphasize. This week while reading through Paul’s letters, a startling question arose:

Lord, if Peter and the other disciples were already the main characters and followers who walked, lived and ate with you, why not use them exclusively? Why Paul?

Think about it, Paul enters the scene as Saul, who wasn’t a believer. He was actively trying to have them killed, yet God said…”I want Him.” What does this mean for our lives. I used to go through life questioning why God wanted to use me to sing, write, worship, etc. when there were “more qualified, more experienced people.” I couldn’t wrap my head around being chosen because I didn’t have the qualifications. I would compare myself like crazy, which automatically led to me writing myself off. Then I was reminded of Romans 8:30, “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

Challenge for those questioning your purpose: Stop moping around asking, “why me?” You can’t be used if you don’t understand that the gifts and abilities you have are not of yourself, but from God. Know that God doesn’t call the qualified, but qualifies the called. Believe it or not, when Paul first came to see the disciples, they were scared of him. Paul must’ve been that bad of a brotha to have the disciples questioning his presence. At one point you may have been like Paul – actively fighting against God’s plan. Let him use you.

Challenge for Christian leaders: Stop writing off the Sauls of this world. If you only focus on what folks are not doing, rather than genuinely getting to know people and seeing the Christ in them, you’ll never have the eyes of God. You can’t live like Christ without having the compassion he had. So, take it easy! If we are being honest, I believe some of our Christian leaders were blinded this past election because we forgot how to live through grace. We used religion to validate why we “had” to write off those that are different than us. Cues eye roll. We ain’t all that and a bag of chips. Serving must be rooted in humility. Without humility, our pride makes us forgetful and we begin to look down on people. As a result, we get scared of the Sauls. We write them off. We disassociate ourselves from them. Yet when God changes their heart, we wonder why they don’t feel comfortable talking to us, joining our churches, and attending our small groups. How you treat people while they are lost has a great impact on where they go when they are found.

-Dantrell

Redefining What it Means to be a “Cheerful Giver”

Reflection time!

So, I was walking to the bus stop around 8:30pm because my bus was coming in 2 minutes and a guy stop me and ask if I could help him buy food. These were my honest thoughts:

  1. I’m really enjoying this Christian song so I’m not trying to be interrupted
  2. 2) my bus is now coming in 1 minute so I can’t afford to miss it; and
  3. 3) I only have a $20.

So I said “No.” He replied, “please… you can’t help me get food”?” Again I said “No” and walked to the stop light. Immediately, I was convicted by a couple of things:

  1. I just asked God to use me and wrote a whole post about it yesterday, but so easily wrote off this man. Was I becoming selective in who God could use me for?
  2. Catching the bus so I could be home in comfort became more important than a man’s dignity; and
  3. A man needed food TODAY. His needs were immediate but I was concerned about the replaceable $20 that I didn’t want to break. I thought, “but this is $20 dollars and I seriously don’t have change so that makes it ok.” Ummm, so why not give him the whole $20?

Best believe in an instant, I ran back to him and gave him the $20. The reality is that “God loves a cheerful giver” has become a saying we use during offering, but can’t seem to make that connection on the streets and outside those four walls.

When I gave it to him, his face lit up and he said, “Wow, really?…thank you.” My obedience and act of love may have been the only reflection of Christ he saw that day. Want to know the best part, after telling him God loves him and giving him the money, the bus was legit waiting at the bus stop. God held the bus!

What am I saying here? It’s not always about you. We literally miss the opportunity to bless others because we are so focused on us and our agenda. Don’t get me wrong: you are important, but so are others. You can’t ask God to use you, then turn around and complain that you feel used. Today was a day where the conviction was instant, but there have been days where I have said “No” and walked away. I’m not alone…we’ve all done it. I challenge everyone to be cognizant of the ways that our self-centeredness (no matter how well intentioned it is) have hardened our hearts to helping those in need.

Blessings and understanding to all who read this. Amen.

Fix Your Posture to Say “Yes”

Just wanted to encourage someone today.

So today in my prayer time, I told God, “If there are any opportunities to use me today, please do! For my posture is a ‘Yes’ and I want to be your ambassador today.” I kid you not, every conversation today, God did just that. He showed me who was hurting, who needed to be invited to church, who needed to know they were loved, who needed me to listen, and who needed me to celebrate in their joy. I promise y’all, I don’t share faith out of ritualistic duty; it is a genuine desire to show the world Christ like never before.

With that said, a couple of realizations came from today’s conversations:
1. The world has really distorted the role and function of the church. So many are scared to go (and sometimes rightfully so) because we have made it a place where you have to it all together and be flawless instead demonstrating what happens when a group of imperfect, jacked-up folks gather to celebrate the grace shown.

2.Don’t just invite people to church, be it. The church is not a building and the four walls, it’s the people in it. Some people can’t wait till Sunday. Ask God how you can be the church today.

3. If we wait to “get ourselves right” before going to church, we will never go. The church is like a hospital. If you broke your arm, you wouldn’t say, “I’ma wait till this arm heal, then I’ll go to the doctor.”

4. I’ve learned that folks are desperately longing for community and a welcoming church. If you call yourself a Christian, your walk must be centered around helping others and not just going to church to receive for yourself. When you realize that you may be the only example of what a Christian and what church is, you begin to live more intentionally and develop a longing and thirst for folks to experience something liberating.

5. Lastly, for all those that are seriously struggling with their faith, the church and what it means to follow Christ, please know that there are living reflections of what Jesus meant when he said, “let our light shines so others may see His good works.” I know many people have been impacted from their childhood experiences of religion, participated out of ritual and drifted once older. To be honest, some just seriously feel like “what’s the point.”

Will you consider giving Christ another try? Hit me up and I would love to share more.

-Dantrell

Honest Reflection: Why Did You Vote?

These are my pure thoughts.

I found a lot of my white Christian brothers and sisters claiming how “hard” it was to vote, and I get that, we didn’t have great choices at all. With that said, that very sentiment is still very much rooted in privilege and a form of individualism. Hard to swallow, yes. I am surrounded in spaces with undocumented students, folks who very livelihoods are threatened daily.

Do I agree with every lifestyle choices? No. But I’ve seen how God uses me and others to share His love and grace, yet so many used religious Christian rhetoric to rank what they believe was more “Biblical Christian” values. That was the part that hurt most. I think for so many of us, after everything Donald said, there is no way I could ever support him because his blatant words has targeted and threatened the lives of folks I encounter everyday.

So, it’s a respectful challenge for my privileged brothers and sisters to reconsider what really was “difficult.” I really think if voting for self and personal values, then of course it was difficult. But I do question whether we really put on the equity lens that Christ life was centered around and voted with others in mind. Almost felt like people were more concerned with possessions (what can I keep: economics, jobs, money) and less about who can I care for (the ones Christ tells us to go out and be a light to).

Seriously, how do we serve the poor and hurting and broken, and at the same time support the very people and systems that’s creating and upholding such inequities. My vote wasn’t rooted in my personal wants, but truly out of love for my oppressed brothers and sisters, and that advocacy automatically had to rule out Donald.

Off to serve so many students that are honestly in awe, disbelief and fearful for what’s to come.

-Dantrell

You Are A Living Recommendation Letter!

Quick Post:

Reading 2 Corinthians 3:3, and Paul gives us a great analogy that we are living recommendation letters to validate the power of Christ. “You are a letter from Christ…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, written not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” WOW! Let’s be living recommendation letters of all Christ has done!

Dantrell