“Education is the most powerful weapon which can be used to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela
When I think of you, I think of what life would have been if you never invited me into your home.
I wonder if I would have become a statistic like so many others I know. I wonder if I would have been able to single handedly break the cycle of poverty, drugs, mental illness, and incarcerations that have plagued my family. I even wonder if I would be here to tell you that I have dedicated my life to you because I know your power.
As I have gotten older, I worked to accept the titles you gave me as an adolescent. I’ve learned that those titles, which included “at-risk,” “low-income,” and “first-generation college student,” gave my student record a much needed dash of salt-and-pepper and screamed “Help this child… He needs you… Help him succeed.”
My love… I must admit that my parents never personally met you even though they have the upmost respect for you. I am sad to tell you that one of my siblings barely graduated high school and the other dropped out*. I almost dropped out as well but one of your guardians, Upward Bound, saved my life.
Growing up struggling was not easy. At one point dad had four jobs; most of which were temp positions. To make ends meet, Mom searched to find a position in the healthcare field after 13 years of being a stay-at-home mom. We received public assistance so that mom and dad could keep a somewhat happy home. Friends and family worked to help us by sending clothes and even watched over us while mom and dad were away at work.
Education… I remember times when I didn’t see my dad for days because he was either at work or sleeping preparing for work. I can remember sneaking into my parent’s room while they slept just to say “I saw my dad today!” Education, my dear, it saddens me to know that my mother, who became ill on Mother’s Day 2006 due to the stresses of life, might have had a better life with you. Just know that mom is still alive and calls me often to hear more about our flourishing relationship.
From free lunch, to reduced lunch, you always made sure that I was fed. During my ninth grade year, you saved my life by introducing me to Upward Bound; one of eight federally-funded programs that help increase access to higher education for economically disadvantaged students.
Inch-by-inch… You watched me grow.
Book-after-book… You perfected my speaking and reading skills.
Day-by-day… You worked to help me believe in my talents.
Class-by-class… You helped me complete school and become the first in my family to hold a Bachelor’s degree from my alma mater, North Carolina Central University.
My love, I am overjoyed to tell you that with your assistance I am set to graduate within a year with a Master of Public Administration. This could not have happened without you.
As I wipe my tears and calm my spirit, I must tell you that I recently took time out off, traveled to Washington, D.C. and donated my life’s story to Upward Bound parents and students. Twice. You have made such a difference in my life and I can no longer hide how happy you make me.
Because of you, I spoke to a group of 30+ Upward Bound Students and 20+ parents on February 9, 2013. Topics included in these short sessions were the College Level Examination Program (CLEP), my career from high school to now, and my life as an Upward Bound alumnus. While still thinking of you, I hosted a session at an Upward Bound student leadership conference. This session, lead on February 23, 2013, was titled, “Upward Bound Alumnus: I Made it; So Can You!”
Donating my life story to families, whose life story mirrors my own, reminded me that life is about giving back and paying it forward. So the time has come for me to finally pay-it-forward and confesses my love to you, my partner in crime… EDUCATION.
With thoughts of equity and access for all,
P.S.: Great News! My sibling that dropped out of high school obtained his GED in 2013 after the original article was published.
About the Author
Julius “J.U” Jones, a 2001 Upward Bound alumnus and 2005 North Carolina Central University alumnus, is a Higher Education Management Professional, voiceover actor (event emcee), and Philanthropist. Currently employed at The College Board in New York City, J.U works directly for the ACCUPLACER and CLEP Programs; two programs that help students and families save time and money during their tenure in college.
J.U, a first-generation college student, recently completed a Master of Public Administration. In the sprit of public service and outreach, J.U spends most of his free time speaking with families in the surrounding communities about education. He recently spoke at Howard University to a group of college bound high school students in a session titled “A Different World: Diversity and Tolerance When Going to College” J.U Jones loves to volunteer and currently serves as the New York Urban League Young Professionals (NYULYP) Co-Chair of Community Service. To stay in the know with all things J.U, visit www.jujones.com.