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,