Becoming a Champion for Progress
My entire life, I have been taught the value of a work-save-invest ethic. With my father serving in the military and my mother working for organizations like the League of Women Voters during our childhood, my brother and I instinctively developed a desire to be civically engaged despite consistent reminders from our society that as black people we were undervalued no matter the contributions we made to society.
My parents made sure my brother and I understood the importance of education and knew the value higher education added to our future livelihoods. Our parents managed to become first-generation college students and we were brought up to believe in our ability to see it through just as they did. It was the expectation that we would do what we needed to do academically and civically to make sure we matriculated to and through college, so we did.
I attended the best public schools in Cleveland until overcrowding became a serious issue in middle school and scholarship funding became available for me to attend a private high school. My experiences in private school were drastically different than that of public school. I performed academically well in both settings which was great but for four years, I lived my version of a tale of two cities. This experience certainly had the potential to have a negative effect on my esteem, confidence, and outlook. Fortunately, none of that came to fruition. Instead, my high school experience taught me a pivotal lesson that would fuel my passion for education and community engagement; the lesson: access to opportunity had much to do with race, zip code, and socio-economic status.
Since then, I have been dedicated to be a part of the change I wanted to see. I went to college with an understanding that I had to make the most of the opportunity for the greater good.
During my four and a half years in college, I did more than I imagined I would. I participated in leadership development programs, served on exec boards, and attended so many free workshops just to learn more about Cleveland and strengthen my capacity for leadership and professional development. I discovered Christ for myself, worked a total of eight jobs along my path to debt-free graduation, met my financial goals, traveled abroad, served as the International Second Vice President of a $50M corporation, won a number of awards, found my passion for law injustice, embraced my singleness, and really began to find myself. I made friends and learned how to manage relationships with foes. There were times when I wanted to give up because of financial challenges my family faced and not-so-smart decisions I mad, but I knew I had to keep pushing, just like you.
Today, I am a champion for progress prepared to empower and inform vulnerable communities susceptible to the detrimental effects of systemic oppression about their abilities to overcome adversity. I am making the most of my gap year and sharing the lessons with others. Thus far in my gap year, I have purchased my first home, hosted budgeting workshops, and served my community in many ways. Upon completion of my MPA program in May 2020, I plan to attend a top-ranked law school and further establish my career as a civil servant. It is my intention to serve as an elected public official, lead a non-profit organization, serve as legal counsel on critical matters, serve as a senator and be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Looking back, I gave Case my best effort and the return on my investment in myself continuously yields a high return. Here’s my advice to students as they make it through college.
Make the most of your time in college – regardless of who’s paying for it and despite the challenges you may face.
Find your spiritual foundation. Without it, you’ll never be satisfied as the world cannot satisfy your soul. I encourage you to invest in your relationship with God.
Take advantage of free resources. Check your local libraries and OhioLink for your textbooks before you purchase them online. Attend events for free meals (in addition to the other benefits of course) and do not be ashamed. Apply for scholarships year round.
Keep record of your work and be organized, especially if you plan to go to graduate school. You will have to submit writing samples, so file your files accordingly. Also, take note of what skills you are developing in each class, so when a job application asks you to list your skills, you can quickly access a comprehensive list.
Begin to focus on your professional development your first semester on campus. Visit the career center and learn how to prepare for career fairs and career development opportunities. Join business fraternities and groups on campus related to your field of interest. Network with local chapters of the organizations you are in. Set up a professional LinkedIn account and use it. Network.
Embrace what makes you different and know that you are not alone. Even if you walk in a room and you are the only one, know that you stand on the shoulders of giants and there are people supporting your growth and success all over the world. You are paving the way for someone else, so move with intent.
Last but certainly not least, I truly believe you should know that if I can make, so can you. I am a girl from Cleveland, OH. A city where the annual income is $27,000 and only 16% of residents have a degree. The odds were against me as they were against so many other people from Cleveland and similar communities and we still made it. You can too.
Know you can do it. You can graduate with little to no debt. You can be at the top of your class and if you aren’t that’s okay, too. You can walk into the board room, courtroom, classroom, dorm room with your natural hair. You can be you. Yes, you can do it.
Keniece Gray is a Cleveland native on a mission to serve God and empower marginalized communities to enrich their communities and combat systemic oppression. Keniece currently works as a Performance Auditor in the City of Cleveland Mayor’s Office of Quality Control and Performance Management A four-time Who’s Who in Black Cleveland honoree, Keniece is the recipient of many awards, including the Stephanie Tubbs-Jones Memorial Scholarship, and has been recognized for her unwavering commitment to cultivate minority interest in leadership, mentorship, and professional development. She was recently named to the NAACP’s 2019 NextGen Fellowship Cohort. Keniece has been recognized for her service as the 2016 – 2018 International Second Vice President of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (AKA) and currently serves as the Board Development Committee Chair of the Boys & Girls Club of Cleveland Bridge Board, a Fair Housing Rights and Research Center board member, and member of many local organizations including AKA, NAACP, NBMBAA, NFBPA, and New Community Bible Fellowship. She loves to travel and try new foods. Most recently, she founded “Journey To The Board,” (JTTB) with the mission to provide minority youth with the skills they need to earn board or executive committee membership by age 25.
Keniece Educational History:
2012 - HS Graduate, Hawken School
2017 - BA in accounting, Case Western Reserve University
2017 - Master of Accountancy, Case Western Reserve University
In progress - Master’s Public Administration, Cleveland State University
Connect with Keniece:
Keniece Gray (LinkedIn)