At MBK Philly, youth perspectives are front and center in our work. We believe in elevating the voices of the young men and boys that we aim to serve. In the words of StoryCorps founder David Isay, “Being interviewed could mean so much to people, particularly those who had been told their stories didn’t matter.”
With that in mind, we’ve created the Tell Your Story Philly (#TYSPhilly) series as a space for local youth to share their stories and be heard. Robert Hudson, a student at the Community College of Philadelphia and a participant in their Center for Male Engagement, shares two reflections this month, one on his experiences in school and another on the role institutions have played in his life.
Apprehension is the only word that accurately describes my feelings when I decided to go back to school.
Coming to the Community College of Philadelphia as a non-traditional student was only one of my fears. I have struggled all my life socially, spiritually, and academically so it should be understandable why returning to school would be a great feat for me. Unfortunately for me I was content living a very uneventful life and I had become accepting to my apathetic life style.
I thought life was nice and easy and became comfortable and complacent. I went through my daily life without much thinking and reflecting. I was content with my routine and didn’t want any change. But when life throws some challenges and problems at us, we stop and think. We take actions and make change, because we have to deal with the challenges and problems.
My change came for me when I was introduced to Community College of Philadelphia’s Center for Male Engagement. The message was clear from Director Derrick A. Perkins, “To take full advantage of your experience at the college, we strongly encourage you to actively participate in our academic, life skills, and social activities.” CME made my apprehension about furthering my education melt away. I was able to take my personal problems head on with the help of CME’s support coaches. CME support coaches have encouraged me to get out of my own way, now I am more socially engaged, spiritually in tuned and with my current 3.7 gpa average I can confidently but humbly say that I am academically sound.
My story isn’t complete and I will continue to apply what I have learned here at The Center for Male engagement and move on to my rightful place in this world. The greatest lesson I have learned on this journey is that both culturally and socially education is the equalizer, the greatest equalizer.
Institutions have been subtly shaping my life for as long as I can remember.
Each institution I have been a part of has brought something unique to my life. My experience with institutions began at 6 years old starting with Girard College in Philadelphia, which is an independent boarding school whose mission is to provide full-scholarships for academically capable students from families that have limited financial resources. I knew my family was poor but I was not sure that I was academically capable. Incidentally, I was expelled from Girard College because of my academic failures. However, I gained another set of skills in which I became extremely independent and decisive. These attributes without doubt are a direct result of me acquiescing to the rigorous day to day schedule of preparatory school.
My next institution was Sleighton Farm Juvenile Reform school where I learned how to rebel against authority and become a better criminal. Sleighton Farm made me skeptical of my future as an African American male because of the labels that were assigned to me like “disenfranchised”, “delinquent” and the worse of all “at-risk.” I internalized these labels and eventually I ended up in Adult Prison which was traumatizing and enlightening. There, I went through extreme mental anguish but I learned a lot about myself. Prison enhanced my self-awareness giving me the time to evaluate my character, feelings, motives, and desires and ultimately changing my outlook on life for the better.
My last and current institutional experience is higher education at Community College of Philadelphia which is turning out to be the most profound experience so far in my life of institutions; by enabling me to reach my full potential and preparing me for success in career and life. My involvement with these institutions have strengthened my resolve that higher education will have the most substantial impact on my life.