College? What For?
***EDITOR’S NOTE: Continuation of the Recession (Depression) Series. I will keep writing and exposing some of the hiring practices of certain companies and the virtues (or apparent lack thereof) of going to college/returning to college in this day in time.
My man Cameron Giles (aka Cam’ron) said it best years ago, “What I’mma do? Go to college, what the f— for? So I can get a job, get paid $30,000 a year, be paying student loans for 30 years? How I’mma be able to go to Miami 10 times a year off that?”
You may not agree with his grammar, or the content of his lyrics, but he makes a point. Is this where we are right now? There was a time, from about 1981-2000 — that if you were ANY American, White, Black, Asian, Latino, Arab, what have you, and you went to college, got a degree or 3, you were GUARANTEED to find a job. And the more degrees you had by your name, the more of a sliding scale your pay and job prestige would be. Ever since Bush, Cheney & Co. had the planes flown into WTC, the Pentagon, etc., the job market has become progressively worse for college graduates. And it’s been even more pronounced since 2007.
Think about some of the sacrifices people make to even go to college. Think about the sacrifices some people would make if they were even ALLOWED to go to college, if not for the prohibitive nature of the cost to do so? There are millions of people who would like to go to college, if for no other reason than to broaden their personal perspective and become enlightened in a concentration — much less to be better suited to receive a promotion at a job or move to a new field altogether. I am cognizant of these people, and can relate to them. No one wants to be staring $125,000 (I have a few friends who have gotten 4 or 5 degrees and are into Uncle Sam $400K) in loans directly in the face for 10-30 years; particularly when they can’t even get a job on par with the one they had before going to school in the first place.
I just wonder how this system we have in place was set up to begin with. What does it say about this nation and its consideration of Black men (Black women don’t have it so hard, as almost every Black woman I know is employed and almost every job I’ve applied for has featured one interviewing me for the job), that you spent the better part of the last 30 years extolling the virtues of going to college, getting educated, then you have a subgroup of females who do nothing but berate even the best of those men who seek to enlighten themselves, not even to better their job prospects, but better THEMSELVES and expand their horizons, especially should they choose to become entrepreneurs? So many Black guys I know have a Bachelors degree, maybe a Masters, a few of them have Juris Doctorates and I even knew a Ph.D. who couldn’t even get a job flipping burgers because of his educational background (yet couldn’t get a job in his field either). This is ridiculous. A man’s desire is to be able to sustain himself first, then potentially a family and above all else, HE WANTS TO WORK. When he cannot work, cannot sustain himself, cannot provide for a wife and children, what does that lead to (a whole ‘nother column, whole ‘nother day on that)?
Personally, my situation is rather unique. I began college in 1997 with my high school graduating class at Long Island University in Brooklyn. I was where I was supposed to be, on track to graduate with my class in 2001, had made inroads at Madison Square Garden (for an internship with the Knicks) and had a very nice 5 year plan laid out. Circumstances that I will not speak about publicly necessitated that I withdrew from the school and leave New York (and anyone who knows me knows I would not have willfully done that, since I had no desire, no reason, no purpose for being down south). That set me back, but being resilient, I made the most of it and tried to see the other side of things: WORKING.
It was tough to find a job at that time. I had no refined skills, just a high school diploma and no substantial college education, didn’t belong to any organization that could have vouched for me to get a decent job, so I had to go through a temporary staffing agency to find employment. That is how I ended up with Aetna. I know a lot of people ask me how I got that job without a Bachelors degree and no insurance background at the time, but there was no magic wand — simply got placed there through the staffing agency.
Moving on, I, being a man of structure and order, built a reputation with Aetna and carved out a nice niche there. I maxed out by 2003 (actually fought every year to move back to New York and spent every summer here re-establishing my contacts so that I would hit the ground running when I was able to move back) and became disenchanted. While I was making very good money, plus bi-monthly stock options that I could cash in on (and they were lucrative at the time, given that Aetna was prospering in a major way after about 2002), along with quarterly bonuses, my job was mind-numbing. I could do it in my sleep. Being a natural entrepreneur and a leader by birth, I find it hard to sit and do the same thing every day, 40-50 hours a week with no ability to grow or be promoted within.
By 2004, I was sitting pretty. I wanted to break into real estate investing in 2000 and spent five years trying to put myself in position to acquire property that could be rented, while I was able to buy my own house and build equity rather easily. I had started a non-profit organization with my cousin in 2004, had continued to offer services through my own personal business since 1997 (one that had been conceived one night back when I was living in Brooklyn as I pondered methods by which I could apply my innate abilities business-wise). In short, I was good bread at that point.
BUT I WAS DEPRESSED.
That job was dead-end, unless you had someone willing to put selfishness aside and put in a word for you to be promoted beyond our level. I had maxed out salary-wise, and with no promotion involved, my business acumen and other dreams (which were inadvertently placed on the back burner when I left New York as I had to go from “Goal-Achievement Mode” to “SURVIVAL OR DIE MODE”) were lying dormant. I could barely force myself to get up and go to that job the entire year in 2004 and the part of 2005 that I was there before I left it for good. I had decided to go back to school in 2004, and I worked full-time, went to school full-time, served over a ministry and started a non-profit ALL within that two year period, and doing each simultaneously the entire time.
That’s dedication and focus.
I had bought a $40,000 sports car (Nissan 350Z) and I had several lines of credit, as my credit score was 815 (due to my meticulous nature of immediately paying all debts and having paid off two cars before I was 25 — I also had multiple accounts with several banks and credit unions, which also builds your credit score, provided that they remain in the positive). I WAS GOOD MONEY. I figured going back to school was a natural progression. It was time. I was 25 years old. I didn’t have time to waste.
LITTLE DID I KNOW.
I know people mean well, but I am really sick of all the church clichés and other bunk that people spew about my situation since September 2005 (which has rapidly deteriorated ever since), but I really do not want to hear it. I don’t want to hear about earthquake, tsunami victims and the homeless. There is a time and place for that, and while in a position to help those people, I have done so, but you are talking about someone who had everything working for them and finds nothing but bad breaks, poor fortune and complete rejection at every turn ALL OF A SUDDEN. Earthquakes happen, tsunamis happen as a result of those, the homeless face bad breaks, too — but usually have no contingency plan in place when things fail and they go under. I am no quitter. The hustler in me won’t allow me to. People ask how I was able to support myself on nothing but those paltry student refund checks, a few gifts from family (and this was not substantial by any means) and NO INCOME since August 2005 — but anyone who is from, ever lived in or spent any significant time hanging out in Harlem knows that hustling is THE WAY OF LIFE, and you pick it up honest.
Think about it. I had a near-perfect credit score. A year’s wages saved up for when I went back to school (half of which was depleted upon arrival at UNC Greensboro as a transfer from Long Island University), a $40,000 car which was 3/4 paid for, two businesses and real estate options at hand.
Fast forward 4 years.
I HAVE NONE OF THAT. No job. No income. No serious job prospects, and without which, there is no “CREATING YOUR OWN OPPORTUNITIES” — I get so sick and tired of people saying this to me. The next person who does it may get smacked with a Johnston & Murphy. I’m dead ass. You don’t have capital, nor the means to generate it, THERE IS NO CREATING OF ONE’S OWN OPPORTUNITIES. Much less when you’re drowning in credit card, student loan and hospital debts with no ability to repay them (itself being a likely culprit explaining the inability to secure employment).
Then I catch nothing but bad breaks ever since? I had to haggle with UNC Greensboro for a YEAR in 2007 for money that belonged to ME. And even after they finally relented and paid up, I only got HALF of what was due to me.
I broke my back later that year, was completely inactive in 2008, other than walking like Phil Jackson to get to class. Anyone who has had back woes/ruptured disk knows not to make this seem trivial. I had people trying to minimalize the significance of my injury — clearly people who have never injured their backs. I am one of the toughest guys I know. I have a high threshold of pain. When you play sports year-round for 15 years and never sit out, despite obviously getting nicked up and injured at times within that period, you’re not a softie. When I was unable to walk for more than 20 feet at a time without collapsing in pain regularly, people thought I was punking out.
WHEN I FINALLY HAD SURGERY IN 2008, MY DOCTOR THOUGHT IT WAS A MIRACLE I COULD EVEN SIT UP AND GET OUT OF BED. Meanwhile, I was going to class every day and even tried to work out, run and play basketball through it. My roommate and his now-wife can attest to it. Michael Wright is no quitter. When I’ve caught bad breaks, I’ve fought through them. But this has been going on for FIVE FULL YEARS NOW. Enough is enough. From breaking my back, to breaking my BANK, from having my non-profit fail, to losing my good name/credit score, to having to sell my 350Z, to depleting my savings, rack up tens of thousands in debt in my path, from not being able to get a job — despite applying like a madman ever since October 2005 and still have not had a full-time job in that time (only three two-month stints at temporary or seasonal jobs). I’m sick of it.
As depressed as I was at that job, I DID have a solid income and had options to do things as an entrepreneur and invest. I am at the end of my rope and all I’m going to say now is this — I have always respected dudes in the streets. I have always been a legit dude and cats in Harlem, Brooklyn and out on Staten Island know my hustle and respect it. For that, I get a street pass. No snitch here. But at the end of the day, I know why most of the REAL hustlers resort to doing what they do. If they see a cat like me, with everything I had going for me, education, business acumen, etc. and can’t cut it — they figure “why go to college, when I can flip this White and move to Alpine?”
And I can’t say that I blame them. With every passing day, I almost regret going back to college. Why does a Black man need college nowadays? The better jobs seem to go to those Black men who barely graduated high school, while those of us who sacrificed our whole lives just to be able to go to school can’t even wash cars. Again, I sacrificed my entire life, can I at least get
laid paid? For those who like to toss out empty rhetoric, church speak and can’t help with the job prospects, if you have kids, I wish I could just kick them in the fucking head and stomp on their testicles, so you could feel the pain I feel.
And no, I’m not laughing. I can wholeheartedly understand why Tyson said that, and I feel the same way right now.