By the time I started my post-secondary studies at the University of Central Florida, I was eager to expand my support system in order to develop relationships with other guys who could push, challenge, and support me. My intentionality helped me find what I was looking for. Throughout college, my mind was stretched in ways I could have never imagined. My ability to cry, be vulnerable, and support and be supported by other young men was one of the indelible aspects of my college experience. I was thriving and had accomplished everything and more than what I set out to do while in college. Little did I know, heading to graduate school would challenge me unlike ever before.
I attended graduate school at the University of Chicago through their school of social work. Although I attended a PWI (predominantly white institute) during my undergraduate program, it had been much larger, so going to a small, private university like UChicago was a culture shock. I experienced immense imposter syndrome, and I felt as if I didn’t belong. I didn’t feel as smart as the other students at the school – I was sitting in classrooms with people who were valedictorians of their high school, many of them were born into wealth. The knowledge they possessed made them seem light-years ahead of me.
I was also one of the few Black people in my graduate school cohort that year. This made me feel isolated and, although I grew up in diverse communities, I wasn’t used to being in such a white environment. As a result, I was intentional about not giving into stereotypes typically associated with Black people, such as being late. Outside of the small friend circle I had, mostly composed of other Black students, I kept to myself. At the same time, while not fitting in at the school, my internship, located in a predominantly Black community in Chicago, made me feel conspicuous and out of place. To this day, I’m not sure what specifically made me feel this way, but it made me self-conscious and alone. I was having an identity crisis and I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere.
To make matters worse, I had no family in Chicago and the demands of graduate school were intense. I eventually stopped attending classes I felt were too hard for me. Doing this only led me to feel like a failure and made me believe that I was going to let my family down. Yet, I allowed myself to suffer in silence because I wanted to put on this facade to my friends and family that I was okay. However, doing this led me to hit the lowest point in my life. I stopped pouring into myself spiritually. I wasn’t working out like I used to. At one point, I vividly remember sitting in my room, after having skipped yet another class, and thinking to myself, “I’d rather quit this and be homeless.” I stayed in this semi-depressed state for three months.
It wasn’t until one of my TA’s, a Black man, reached out to check in on me that I began to turn things around. His class was one of the ones I’d been missing regularly, and he offered me the support that I desperately needed yet struggled to convey. His guidance and investment in me helped me to get back on the right track and gave me a renewed sense of purpose. He helped me remember my why. Although I still struggled in several classes throughout my time in graduate school, I did just enough to cross the stage.