I'm always checking in on the Explorers to see how things are going with them. Noah, texted me back, saying he'd be back in Chicago for a week. He just completed his first summer of college at Prairie View A&M University. He's studying Marketing.
Noah is the 2nd Explorers Club Alum to head off to college.
Last year when Noah told me he was considering two colleges, Prairie View A&M in TX and Robert Morris downtown, I didn't even hesitate. I strongly insisted that he attend Prairie View A&M. His kickback to me was that his brother is 10 and his sister is 5, and his father didn't want him to leave the state.
I remember speaking candidly to him and told him that he's looking at the situation wrong—he was not leaving or abandoning his family, he's going away to better himself and set an example for his family. Noah was laying down a foundation for himself and creating a firsthand roadmap for his younger brother and sister.
I know firsthand what it feels like to be told by friends and parents not to leave the state for college. It's scary and you feel crappy for leaving your family, but getting away and immersing myself in a learning environment was essential to my growth, and I'd be damned if I wasn't going to do my best to get Noah out of Chicago. After all, he manifested this opportunity and was accepted to a great university.
I hadn't seen him in a few months, but he'd grown a lot. His eyes were different, perhaps unveiled to the ways of the world and getting by on his own. I hugged Noah and his mom at their apartment in South Shore. Noah told me that college, the campus, the women, and the facilities were unbelievable, and he was having the time of his life. "Why would anybody not want to go to college?” he kept smiling and saying.
Something new: While walking around, Noah seemed paranoid about being in South Shore. He kept telling me, "Jahmal, look out," as cars approached me while my back was turned ... and I'm tearing up while writing this because people shouldn’t have to live in fear.
Noah's perspective and demeanor were different, and it leads me to believe that being desensitized to violence in Chicago is not a permanent condition. When you have something to aspire toward (Absolutely Loving College), you seem to want to protect that opportunity, and I believe this was the reason for Noah's caution. He had something to look forward to—his life!
My advice to Noah was the same advice a college senior once gave me. Look around at the people in your inner circle at college and recognize that only a few of you will graduate, maybe only you. I now know this to be a fact. According to a UChicago study, 6 percent of 9th graders who attend CPS go on to complete college, and 3 percent of African American males graduate college. I didn't get too data heavy in my conversation with Noah, though. I just spoke in terms of "no excuses."
He told me that his first semester was challenging, and he hardly gets any sleep, but he's catching on and learning how to study.
"My professor told all of us that we weren't special. Any one of us can fail if we're not willing to put in the work."
We drove to Chatham and played ball at Cole Park. I began to play with the younger guys, but something happened and I wanted to witness it. Noah took a leadership role on the court, and I just sat down and listened to him talk to the high school students about attending college in Texas and marketing their rap dreams correctly. Noah helped expand their world views.
It was good seeing Noah and be in the position to send him back to school with some apparel and advice. I know he's gonna graduate. No excuses...