It Doesn’t Get Easier, You Get Stronger
Growing up in Northwest Indiana is often viewed as an interesting dynamic for those who are familiar with the area. On one hand, you have the beauty of Lake Michigan and Chicago in your back yard. On the other hand, you have violence and a lack of economic development that makes it a very easy place to cautiously bypass if you are traveling north out of Indiana to get to the bright lights of Chicago. As a young child, violence was a thing that hit very close to home. I lost my mother at the age of two, and in seventh grade I lost my father - both to heinous crimes that left me feeling confused, angry, afraid and alone as I navigated middle and high school mostly in isolation. Because I was viewed as different, I was often bullied, picked on and not acknowledged by my peers. This created a huge sense of self-consciousness and embarrassment within me -- simply for existing, for being me. When it came time to think about applying to college, I considered it a way out from the loneliness, isolation and hopelessness I had developed as an adolescent. I truly had hope that college would be different. That I would find people who accepted me for who I am. A campus community that would allow me to thrive inside and outside the classroom as a Black male who is often written off before entering a room. For friends who could simply bring me joy and a healthy balance between academics and play.
It turns out that college has been all I hoped for and more. Since entering college, I have fully immersed myself into the experience of being a student. I've excelled academically, served as an orientation leader, peer mentor and presented at conferences on topics pertaining to the school to prison pipeline and the challenges of being a student of color at a predominantly white institution (PWI). I've even had professors, upperclassmen and university administrators reach out and serve as mentors to ensure I remain successful while at IUPUI.
Sounds great, right? A complete change from the dark days of middle and high school, right? Well, yes -- to an extent. While I currently serve in a number of leadership roles on campus and have found the supportive and dynamic community I have longed for since middle school, I still face challenges every. single. day that can easily derail me from my goals if I'm not careful. Whether it is the outburst in class from the white student the other day who told me it irritates her every time I speak up in class because I'm too "articulate", or the fatigue I experience from constantly talking about the racism, micro-aggressions and lack of concern for students of color to people who simply do not care, something inside tells me to k e e p g o i n g. I am here for a reason. The same hope I had prior to college is the same hope that pushes me every day to continue contributing in class -- regardless of who it "irritates". This same hope inspires me to pour into the twenty-five students who I have the honor of calling my mentees -- despite the daily challenges we face as students of color. This same hope propels me to continue receiving straight A's in my courses -- despite what society thinks of me. And, this same hope is what inspires me to prepare and pour into students who will come behind me and might struggle to find a place where they belong. To those students, I say hang on in there. Life is filled with highs and lows, and the difficulties we face will only strengthen our ability to handle the challenges that will inevitably come our way. Even in the midst of success, people will test you. Even when you find those student organizations that bring you much passion, your grades may slip. Even when you feel like you've finally gotten your life together, the rug will slip from beneath your feet and completely turn your world upside down. These inconveniences are opportunities for us all to become stronger. Again, life will constantly test you. But it is your ability to build the endurance needed to navigate and matriculate through these daily struggles.
College has literally been life changing for me, and I can only imagine where I'd be if I lost hope before even getting the chance to explore what it had to offer me. Every day, I am on a mission to advocate for others, maintain my own well-being and thrive in a society that was not created for my success -- all while striving to be the first in my family to receive a college degree. When the going gets tough, just remember: the best way out is through. You have to be willing to push through adversity to reach your goals. It doesn't get easier, but what's even better is you get stronger.
From Merrillville, Indiana, Darius is currently a junior at Indiana University Purdue University - Indianapolis (IUPUI) studying organizational leadership. Upon graduating, he plans to attend graduate school to study higher education and student affairs in efforts to ensure that all students have an opportunity to thrive and feel supported on their journey to a college degree.
Darius Educational History:
2016 - HS Graduate, Merrillville Community School Corporation
In progress - B.S. in organizational leadership, Indiana University Purdue University - Indianapolis (IUPUI)