I am a first-generation college student who has seen and lived within the dark and terrible side of life.
I’ve formed close friendships with people who were so contradictory in their nature, they could have been compelling and complex characters in any number of fictional endeavors.
Nonetheless, somehow I ended up here in UNC-Pembroke, age 25, and still young enough to remember with perfect clarity, the dark dens and chaotic surroundings I had resided with only just a few years previous.
I know there must be other First-Gen’s out there like me with equally interesting stories to tell, though unlike me, they will likely choose to tell no one.
I feel an intense sensation of nervousness and fear and wonder how this will be received by others who may read this. Will they call me a liar? Will they pity me? Will they despise me? Or will they congratulate me?
I was born in Durham, North Carolina, often affectionately called the “Bull City”. Others like myself sometimes call it semi-jokingly, Home Of The Blue Devils.
My heritage was split between the two Native American tribes of Lumbee & Cherokee. My mother’s family was a mixture of majority Cherokee, with hints of Scottish ancestry, while my father’s family was Lumbee dominated, with claims of Irish ties.
I suppose even my parents were unorthodox in their own ways. My father was as mysterious as he was unavailable. He eventually became a financial success in the plumbing business, owning his own company and earning millions of dollars a year.
For all his financial success, I received none of the support a child should expect from such a wealthy parent. However, my mother was quite a bit different, spending most of her adult life before I was born, bouncing from odd job to odd job, never really finding her niche in life in the same way my father had.
I can count the number of high school diplomas amongst all of my kinfolk and friends using the fingers of one hand, and as for college attendees? The mere question is laughable. I’m the first in all aspects.
I would enjoy the prospect of not being the last, but I’ve never felt comfortable planning for the future in terms of long-distance goals.
I’ve always felt I was a different sort of outcast, even among fellow outcasts. Friends would laugh as they questioned me on why I had so many history books in my possession. Most of them were admittedly stolen from the school simply because I enjoyed reading them over and over.
I can remember stealing quotes or random passages of dialogue from fiction novels and using them on my friends. I knew they had never read anything that hadn’t been forced upon them, and so in their lack of knowledge, they would consider me deep, even philosophical. I can also remember feeling depressed at times as I quietly thought about those moments later on and to this day.
I didn’t graduate high school. Rather, I dropped out and moved to Roxboro at the age of 16, after an incident that ended with me being expelled, as well as legal charges being considered.
I was a 17 year-old with a chip on my shoulder and no clue what I wanted.
I drifted for a time after that, doing nothing in particular, and by the time I was twenty I made a random and half-hearted attempt at earning my GED. This, too, ended in failure.
At 21, I was one strike shy of being a felon, and I had failed at every single attempt to better myself that I had ever made and I had grown to feel so tired and defeated. If it weren’t for a man who I initially called “Godfather” who came and offered me a helping hand, I suspect my story would have ended prematurely and on a much darker note. He convinced me to try again.
My godfather had lived a similar life much like mine, so he knew where I was headed which was for dead or prison. He convinced me to try schooling again.
Within a week, I had my GED, and by the time I was 24, I had an Associates Degree in Art. All my life, I had never thought myself capable of such enormous changes. I found it unnatural. I found it surreal. It didn’t seem right. Sometimes it still doesn’t feel real.
So, is there a moral or purpose to my story? Is there a purpose? I can’t honestly say my story will end happily, because I’ve witnessed far too many end tragically. I find myself suspicious of optimism.
I’m haunted by my past and of past choices, and I believe I should be.
I believe that who we are is shaped by our past. It doesn’t have to define us, but it does shape us. We should never forget our origin stories no matter how inglorious or infamous they may be.
I can’t swear I’ll graduate and go on to be successful, but I’d like to think I will. Even now, I tend to think back and wonder how I made it to where I am now and if I deserve to even be here.
All I know is that I hope to usher in a new era for my family, or at least my descendants and give them an example to look up to.
I want them to know that even someone like me who was consumed by the darkness of his everyday life, could do it, so why can’t they? I want to set a bar for the next generation to strive to surpass, and if possible, maybe even inspire a few people in situations similar to mine to fight for their future.