Last year, while very much in the What's Next? phase of graduate school, I wrote the skeleton of the essay I'm about to share. I was down this particular day for some reason, a reason I'm fairly sure is related to police brutality. I've had more of these days than I'd like to admit.
Once I finished, I figured it'd make for a good law school personal statement, and so I made the necessary changes for the application I submitted last winter. I always intended to share this, but was looking for the appropriate time. And here we are, on 2016's 186th day, with 135 black folks gunned down by the police. And counting.
Thanks for reading.
Rest in power, Alton Sterling.
The past two years have been extremely frustrating.
Beyond frustrating, they've been frightening.
I live in abject fear each and every time I walk out of my apartment. Fear that paralyzes me, heightens my anxieties, dictates my interactions with society. Fear that manifests itself in an anger I've been largely forced to hold inside, because the past two years have taught me that even the illusion of an angry black man is grounds for murder.
I thought I really knew why I wanted to go to law school. I had locked in on this urban education problem; I firmly believed that if we could fix public education for black and brown students, we could close the achievement gap, which would consequently increase educational opportunities for those kids. As a result, these kids could live an 'ideal' life in adulthood, attaining that ever-elusive American Dream we always hear about but rarely actually see.
Urban public education still needs fixing, and I am more than eager to both continue learning about public education and put myself in positions where I can be a voice for children of color. But when I zeroed in on education as my passion, I thought if that one thing could be fixed, we would crash the system. I am on record arguing my people cannot expect equity in this country unless this entire faux-democratic and -capitalistic system whose values we hold true is dismantled, reevaluated, and rebuilt. I was adamant that education is the foundation of that system, and if we can produce better educational outcomes for black and brown kids, they could attain that 'success' we envision as children.
Now, I am not so sure. Flawed as American education may be, especially in areas where the population is largely of color, Michael Brown worked hard for his high school diploma. Even planned to attend college. He could have been the most brilliant kid in the world. It is impossible to see him - holding his diploma and wearing his cap and gown - and not see myself or my 12-year-old nephew or my father, who at 67 years old grew up navigating overt racism daily and hoped for better times as he grew older.
I have grown enough to see the trap I allowed myself to fall into. My stance on public education in many ways fell into the respectability politics position I so deeply loathe. If black kids receive the same level of education as white kids, then we will gain the equity we deserve! This is the implicit idea that dominates conversations regarding race relations: if people of color somehow become 'better' - smarter, wealthier, more respectable - everything will be alright. Forgive me for arguing the opposite. My people have done nothing wrong. As a human, I deserve respect. I deserve equitable treatment. I deserve my life.
Your school provides a specifically unique opportunity. As an undergraduate at Howard University, I saw firsthand DC's capacity to marry the tangible change of Capitol Hill with the voices in the trenches seeking revolution. From my vantage point, DC is the hub of power in this country - for better or worse - and simultaneously working and studying in DC will significantly color my experiences and contributions as a student at your institution. DC and your institution are Ground Zero for the knowledge I seek. If I fail in my pursuit of that knowledge here, where else can I turn?
Attending law school has now become a life-or-death proposition for me. I need to know this country's Constitution. I need a firmer understanding of how this system works, of my role - or lack thereof - in this system, and how best I can help change it. James Baldwin's quote regarding black consciousness and anger is well-known enough, but I think I am truly beginning to understand exactly what it means. I have needed the proper conduit through which to channel this anger - this rage - and my Public Policy program has often provided more questions than answers. I do not expect law school to provide every solution, but I do anticipate learning a vast majority the information I seek to know.