The personal statement, or any supplemental writing for college, is always the "statement of I" - what do I think, I feel, and I believe. Hopefully, most of us are raised to be humble; however, you can be humble while still talking about yourself. Whether you pick a grand topic, or a specific moment that impacted your life, remember to talk through your own perspective about that topic. Ask yourself, what does this say about ME? How do I see my topic impacting ME? And why is this important for the admissions officer to know about ME? In an effort to put myself in the shoes of a high school senior, I tried my hand with the personal statement.
Common Application Essay Prompt: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story:
“Dad, why is the owner following US around this store?” “Kids, let’s go. Put everything back and we’ll talk when we get home.” I vividly remember that day when nine year old Eddie had “the talk” with my dad. That evening we went home and my dad explained how I, as a black man in Oakland, California, would not be given the benefit of the doubt when I walk into a new space. More specifically, people won’t always look into your heart to see the good will there, or into your brain to see the potential there, but they will ALWAYS see the color of your skin.
He went on to say that my grandparents left Mississippi in the early 1960’s to give their children and their potential grandchildren a better life than they experienced in their youth. He explained that I may have to work twice as hard to get half as far, but despite that, do not lose who you are. It does not mean you must accept the reality of the current situation, but don’t be surprised either. He closed by making the point that against all odds, I am beautiful, smart, and will do great things for many people. With that in mind, please understand that this world is not always safe for a person of my skin tone.
It took me a while to fully digest the conversation, but it made me realize that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s dream has not been realized. Learning about the civil rights movement in school seemed like history, but “the talk” made it my reality. While sobering for a nine year old, those words inspired me to succeed in school (and life) to show that there are unheard voices behind the stereotypes. That day I vowed that I would not be an example of our culture's negative portrayal of black males or to let people say “I told you that a black man from Oakland can't succeed.”
While I take a very nonchalant approach at times, I continually absorb information in any manner that I can. Somehow people have seen the mix of my "chill" manner and skin tone as a lack of motivation. However, I see it as a coping method to deal with my daily realities of being a black man with a thirst for knowledge who is a firm believer that knowledge is power. It does not matter the time or place, but there is always something to learn. The more that I can understand the world in which I lived during my first 17 years, the better suited to contribute to the world I envision to live in during my adult years.
In my early years I have been given plenty of opportunities to be a negative stereotype and have been labeled derogatory titles like "at-risk" due to my race, zip code, and because my parents didn't finish college [or ever get past community college courses]. Against all odds, “the talk” made it clear that it is my choice to do well and I'm certainly trying to do so by applying to college. Sadly, it also showed me that as much as I can do to change myself, I'm also stuck with the reality that my hard work might not be enough. This feeling impacts me and other people that look like me daily. I can only HOPE that people allow themselves to get past their initial assumption of my skin tone, nevertheless I will continue to show people the content of my character and add to the substance in my brain.
*note: my dad didn't know this conversation impacted me this much until a few days ago when I sent this blog to him.
**Second note: for a longer version of "the talk" that black parents have with their children, read "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The format is a 176 page letter to his teenage son about what Ta-Nehisi has experienced and what his son could potentially experience.