Dr. Terrell Strayhorn – Tri-state Consortium Conference 2017


Wow, round of applause for that wonderful
introduction [applause] from one of my new best friends, Edith
Corbin, who, who has just done a great job of making sure that everything, if whoever has the mic could just turn the volume down, a little bit to take the bass, a little bass out of my voice, I don’t have much, but I don’t
need that much either. But this is a great job in planning this wonderful
conference alone with the planning committee and the president and the
board members so a round of applause for everyone who put together this
consortium, this opportunity for us to meet. I am so thrilled and delighted to be here and to have the opportunity to be a part of this special, special gathering of really
wonderful professionals who are doing incredible work all across the country
and certainly in this region and you know I’ve been sitting here for a while
trying to figure out how can I continue, you can’t tell this because when you look at
me I went to a church this morning, I’m not going to name the church because you
know when I went to the church I thought I was going to tiptoe in and have a
little bit of service and I leave out but then I got there I realized there is
either the musician was late and that happens sometimes in churches the
musicians might be late or they don’t have a musician and so sitting there and
the man started singing this song and I thought, oh they need a musician, and if
you’ve ever been in that kind of position and guess what you don’t have to be a musician you don’t have to be in church, sitting where you are on
your campus, working in your program there are days where you realize
someone’s got to work the registration desk and it’s not – you, you got director in
your title but every day, someday the director has to work the registration
table. Every now and again the person who is working with families has to
work with young people, the person who takes care of putting stuff into
computer has to stop with the computer to walk the student down the
hallway or walk them to someone’s office. So I’m sitting there in my seat I’m
thinking oh I don’t want play today I just wanted to go in for a little bit of service but they need a musician. And when you are a musician and somebody needs a musician always think every musician should rise to the
occasion. So before you got there I started walking toward the piano, they’re all
looking at me like wait a minute can you play and you’re my professional
colleagues but if you work with students, I tell students, I just told students this at
Clapton University two days ago, don’t ever walk up to something as if you can
do it when you know you can’t. Prepare yourself for that moment, you know
practice. If it is going to be be the spoken word, practice. People say all the time, by
the time you finish at night you might say I’m really funny. People say you are
really funny you should be a comedian. No I should not. I should be a professor.
That’s what I am. I’m a laughable, funny looking, laughing, you know I crack jokes
as a professor, but I tried it one night I went to this place, called the Funny
Bone. It’s a comedy club in Columbus Ohio. No, because let me tell you
something about this world that we live in, the world we live in, the currents are so
strong, that they will push you to be what people want you to be and before
you know it, people said you should be a comedian, you should be a comedian,
well people probably know better so I should try to be a comedian. I went
to the Funny Bone, I talked to the lady who does the Monday night comedy show, I said people tell me all the time I’m really funny, you should get a load of me
like if you give me five minutes on your show, I don’t want a whole show, just five
minutes, I promise you I would have everybody laughing. I didn’t even know
that I was going to tell this story tonight but it’s so perfect I do.
Especially after the introduction that Edith just gave me, cause I got up there,
listen Tri-State I was cracking jokes, in fact when I walked on the stage they
fell out laughing as if that was a joke. I don’t even know what was so funny. If it was my hair, if it was my size, if it was my socks, matching my bowties, whatever it was. I’m gonna have a bowtie on and I had a necktie, all this stuff and then I crack my first joke, oh they were laughing, and that’s when I said I’m a
professor, they started laughing like that was a joke, and before you know it they were just undone and the only
thing that would have taken that crowd from where they were to where I wanted
them to go, for anyone who watches comedy, if you ever watched Comedy Club or
Comedy Zone or any of those shows, the only thing I needed to take that crowd,
Arnold Mitchum, from where they were to where I wanted them to go which was like
stratospheric was I needed just one good cuss word. If I could have got a cuss word
inside one of them jokes they would have been laid out on the floor but I don’t cuss. That’s
just my own personal principle and so right there on the edge of where I want
them to go and what I’ve got to do and my principle stepped in and my value
stepped in and what my grandmother taught me stepped in and said “Well you
can’t do it” I said but maybe I can do it and nobody would ever know but nowadays with Facebook live you have no idea. People in Egypt are probably listening to
my talk right now I have no idea. So what I decided to do was I decided to stay
myself, back off the stage, they had a good time but I didn’t take them to
that top, top, top level of comedy because I realized in that moment I’m a
professor, I’m not a comedian. Tonight I will do a lot of stuff because
that’s what Edith gave me the assignment to do and everyone on the Planning
Committee so I’ve come to prepared. I’m feeling good, this is a good thing, I mean
whenever I feel good, when I speak, my grandmother, when she was alive she would do that. She’s a Choir Director, right now I’m a Choir Director, she’s a singer, I’m a singer, sometimes when people go to churches my grandmother would say, say baby when we go in this church that pastors going to want us to sing, now say well love that’s her name
Creola Evelyn Warner, you will hear about her later, but I was saying, well, what do you
want to sing she said, well baby you know today I’m not feeling really good, so you
gonna have to sing real strong, somedays she’d be coughing, especially she got older,
she said I can’t really do it like I so I need you to come strong but sometimes
I say ma what are we going to sing today and she’d say, I feel good today, I said all right so let’s sing my favorite song, and trust this, I feel
good today. I don’t know exactly why I had to meet you today and why you had to
meet me but I do know this that we have to meet for a reason and we had to meet now in 2017. I could have been your speaker in 2015 but there’s reason why I’m here in
2017 and I think it’s because what I’m going to argue tonight, sort of building
or what’s already been said, I told the president, you know his opening comments,and then the other president his opening comments, like all night just a little
preacher in everybody. And this audience here says preach and I was like don’t do that don’t say that it’s Sunday and you know whenever you tell it, by the way I’m a
preacher and when a preacher hear someone say preach they really want to
go in and preach. I want to tell you this, if there’s any time ever that we need to have a
conversation like we’re going to have tonight it’s tonight, it’s right now, because I met today, at this precious little church, a
mother who at the end,she’s a mother, church mother, she came up, she
said, little boy, and I had my book back on at church because I wanted to, I
wanted to make sure I could take notes she said, little boy, listen what high
school do you go to? [laughter] I said bless you mother I do not go to
high school, she said okay you’re in college, I said no, but I work at a
college. I said no, I’m a professor. She said now you know you not supposed to lie in
the house of the Lord, so I pulled out my ID and proved to the church mother that I
did not lie to her about my age. I’m just the fun size, that is what I love to tell people I’m the fun size. I am an adult, no I was at the University of Wisconsin OshGosh, giving a talk for about them 30- 40 minutes, at the end of I asked all people
if they had any questions ask them. A young man ran down, he’s a twin, and ran down to the mic. Dr. Strayhorn me and my twin sister over there, he pointed and waved, he
said we have a question for you, been thinking on it the whole time while you’ve
been talking. Are you an adult? So for those of you who are trying to
figure out is he an adult? How old is he? You can look it up on the Internet.
I didn’t come tonight talking about my age, I didn’t come tonight to be judged
by you about my size and if you don’t judge me, I won’t judge you, all right.
It’s OK, just nod. It is that Tri-State does not judge how are the people who work in opportunity programs judging people based on their size, and their skin color and their hair type. I was giving a keynote one
time and I spoke about my hair because someone said did you do your hair and
what you can’t tell is I actually slaved over my hair, I should not use slaved
because some people can’t take that term, but simply I worked hard, you, you might
look at my hair and say it’s kind of all over my head but like every single curl
I placed it where I wanted it to be. I worked on it. I did it I sprayed it and I did I
combed it them and I pulled it to make sure it was there. Just don’t worry about my
hair because tonight I didn’t come to talk to you about my hair, I didn’t come
to talk to you about my tie and I didn’t come to talk to you about my socks, what I
came to talk to you about first of all it’s something that is embedded in every
single program in this room and that is the word opportunity. If ever people
needed something they need an opportunity. We have in our hands what
the church mother, when I finally convinced her I was a professor, I said
in fact I’m here I’m going to speak tonight over at Bally’s to a whole
bunch of folks who work at a University. She said you know little man my
grandson wants to go to college, I said does he mother? She said yeah but we
can’t afford for him to go. I said you can’t afford for him to go? She said no
and then she started telling me and this is what the grandmother, this is what the
church mother said, y’all this this morning, she said because we got so many issues. I said
you have issues mother, she said yes my grandson, she started going down the line
of when his father got incarcerated and how he went through this and his brother
who is living with sickle cell anemia and how they been strapped for money and
stress before you know it she uncovered for me the circumstances in
which he lives, I got excited about it because I said to her, I said mother do
you know what the definition of the word opportunity is? The definition of the
word opportunity refers to circumstances that those of us who work in opportunity
programs, we work in programs that are designed to deal with a set of
circumstances that make it possible to do something. Opportunities, we provide
opportunities, we provide the circumstances that replace other
circumstances, that make it possible for young people to do something. So I loved
who was talking earlier, the president who said that it had not been for
opportunity programs, he would not be present. It is by no stretch of the
imagination that if it had not been for opportunity programs I would not be your
keynote speaker tonight, the reason why is because because of opportunity
programs that replaced my circumstances, gave me a whole different set of
circumstances that exposed me to people that my mom and dad did not know. If I relied on my mom and dad’s social capital network, I would have
probably still been in Virginia Beach. Virginia, where I’m from, but because of
opportunity programs and now the question is what is it that you must do
tonight how do we redefine access and inclusion, how to talk about the
future of higher education and then how do we move where we have to go in order
of taking our opportunity programs off scale. Before I go too far and get too
excited, which I’m already excited, I just want to say special thanks again to Edith, I want to say special thanks to the Tri-State leaders and the board members
I also want to recognize two really wonderful friends of mine who are here.
It’s probably wonderful friends of yours too, but I am going to own them as my friends right now, and that is one who is a pioneer and actually my opening slide
I just sort of dedicate to him because he is, has been a stalwart for all
opportunity programs all across this country, if they had not been for the work
of Arnold Mitchum who is here in our presence, can you please celebrate this wonderful pioneering man [applause] and if it has not been for Arnold Mitchum
having the courage to speak up about opportunity, to people who say things
like well young people’s circumstances should determine what they can do in
life, there are people who have that philosophy, that what you are born into,
what you’re able to do if you can’t work hard enough and you don’t deserve to go anywhere beyond your means but it was folks like Arnold Mitchum who always
kept the song of opportunity playing, always kept that, we’re going to come to
that in just a moment, is I think that if I have any concerns, I got lots of
concerns, one of them is I don’t know that we know the songs of opportunity
anymore. And, and, and for those of you who think this is preaching to the choir,
there two things you have to know about me. One, I am a choir director I know
something about choirs, every now and again choirs act like they know the song
and they do not know the song. You can be sitting there playing the song and
directing the song and they are not singing the song, just freestyling all
over the parts Sopranos will sing Alto, Alto going to sing tenor, tenor going to sing bass, no no. Every now and again the choir does need
rehearsing. So tonight we rehearse the song of opportunity, that people like
Arnold Mitchum helped us learn. Secondly when Arnold decided that he
wanted to move over and keep doing the good work but have a partner in crime
with them it was Maureen Hoyler who’s here. Please thank and appreciate Maureen who is here leading up the council of opportunity and education. I have great
respect for these two people and their work. Now listen, let’s just go where we
have to go, first of all I was how many of you in here, by show of hand,s have
ever heard of Freedom Schools? Freedom Schools, I was just on the phone the
other day with Marian White Edelman, someone else who had a tremendous
respect for, pioneer, one who started championing children’s rights before it
was cool, before it was a hashtag, right? She was out there doing this work and so
Marion, with others, has inaugurated a movement that would bring about Freedom
Schools, happened during the summer, all
across the country, some of them are even year round, where young people are taught
about liberation what I call liberation pedagogy. It’s the idea that schools
should be a site for freeing my mind it should not be what Carter G Woodson
called mis-education of the negro, that this this form of education, this form of
pedagogy that restricts one to a narrative where you are never the victor,
you are never the champion, you are never the scholar, you are never the scientist and
before you know it that message, that message that we call quite frankly
curriculum in schools, then start leaving young people of color, first-generation,
low-income, those who with the intersections of all those identities
with very few possibilities and that is you start accepting this idea that maybe
I’m not the scientist, maybe I can’t be a mathematician, maybe I can only be a
legal aide and not the lawyer, maybe I can only be the dental assistant and not
the dentist, because that’s what education will teach you, but freedom
schools are designed to be this liberatory liberatory space where students
come in and work with us educators who have high expectations of all students.
Last year, well the past two or three years, Marion’s had me come to her
summer training to speak and then at the second one, the second one I went to, I
told all the freedom schools, instructors and director, I want to come to your
freedom school, I want to do what’s called a reading, give or have a freedom
school, and I hope that, hear is what I want you to do tonight, other than take
pictures of me and I want you to take pictures with me at the end, remember
that we’re going to take pictures, together, I want pictures with you, you
look too good not to take a picture and look at this, a lot of the time you said
you look too good not to take a picture, tonight, we should take pictures tonight, yeah, yeah you know you’ve worked on it, you put the shirt on and put the
sweater on, so you can take a picture, take a picture tonight with somebody, but
before we get to the pictures, I want you to also take some notes, notes of things
that we got to remember, things we got this, you know, do you realize this
conference is not about us, this conference is not for you to feel good,
tonight although I have every every single intention of making sure that we leave
inspired tonight, so that my good friend Sylvia Hurtado and other speakers can
come and finish up the entire consortium, adding to this
fuel, but most importantly this conference is not about us it’s really
about who we are going to be interacting with after the conference. In fact I
should have majored in English, the definition of the word conference is it’s a
gathering with intention with like-minded people but interestingly
enough you wouldn’t know this because so many conferences don’t even know their
own definition, they exist as if they’re gathering places for people who have
name badges, they are places we go to get those cool notebooks and by the way that
is a cool notebook in that bag, I do need an extra one somewhere, I’m just saying. I
saw that notebook and I’m like oh my gosh, I’d hold on to my bag don’t let anybody take my bag. I love it when conferences give good gifts but the conference is
not about the gift. Not that gift, conference is a gathering with intentio,n with people who have like minds, and like interests but
this is most important thing, the definition, collegiate dictionary
definition, the word conference, it must lead to two things consensus and change.
In other words Tri-State Consortium cannot be complete, cannot fulfill this
mission, until by the end of this week reach consensus, that is we agree to some
stuff, we got to agree to what opportunity is about, even while whoever
is in the White House. We must agree to what opportunity is going to be about
and it should not be the person in the White House who decides what opportunity looks like, we’re the ones who run the opportunity programs not them. I did not
expect you to clap on that because that’s my assignment I’ve met too many
people who run the programs and worry about people who don’t run the programs.
if you’re running the program and working in the program you’ve got access
to the youth, you got access to the family, why are we worried about the person who
needs you to get access to the young people. You’ve got the resources that
they need, now they make it look like they want everything and they are certainly some barriers and there are some challenges they can
present through their decision-making and their policy, but I was just telling
Edith, and tomorrow I’ll be in DC, speaking on a panel to policymakers
and the thing I know about policymakers is this and that too many policymakers
who are working in education, Arnold will back me up on this one, who don’t know a of with anything about education. How in the world you can
become an education policymakers and you know nothing about education and you’re
talking about you know education as if you know. You want what if we use as long
as you have the money to buy it then you should have access to it, that if your
mom and dad went and therefore you should benefit, but the world doesn’t
work that way. The numbers don’t even play out that way, we’ll talk about that
in just a moment, opportunity we gotta, define that and those of us who work in
opportunity programs have to pay attention to what does opportunity means
for us, but this is what, I was at the Freedom School in Cincinnati, I was with
I was just going to do reading, on Fridays in Freedom Schools they have a reader who comes in and typically how this works is the director of the Freedom
School picks the book and just says to you, hey would you read this book to our
young people, and you come in and your job is just to read the book. Listen I
was reading the book that is on the screen they gave me the book, I looked at
the book, the book is called the Chickens or the Eagles who thought they were
chickens, I thought what is a silly title I started reading the book and it’s
about these Eagles who were on a boa.t I don’t know how Eagles get on a boat. I
didn’t write the book but before you know itm the Eagles that were on the boat
are taken to a land and then they’re pulled off the boat and thrown into a
chicken pen and there are all these chickens that are looking at the Eagles saying oh my gosh that is an ugly chicken. Those don’t look like us, are the ugliest chickens I’ve ever seen in my life, before you know if the Eagles are starting to feel all bad about
themselves and they’re looking to each other saying are we ugly chickens, no one’s
ever told us our entire life that we were ugly chickens but I gotta admit we don’t look like them. Before you know it they started feeling
so bad about themselves and it was internalized and this internalized
hatred of themselves and internalized defeated and depressed esteem, feeling
bad about themselves started to reduce their strength, you have to know
something about the Eagle, to really appreciate this story, before you know it
these chickens who are simply shouting insults at the Eagles, took the strength
of the Eagles down to the point where the chickens walked over to the Eagles and
pulverized them I mean beat them senseless , I mean had them running all over the chicken pen saying leave us alone, they say come back here
you ugly chickens, before you know it will ugly chickens that are actually
Eagles are over in the corner of the chicken coop trying to heal, before you
know it here comes another eagle from the boat
being dumped into the chicken pen and the Eagle, the chickens look at this new eagle they say there goes another ugly chicken, but for some reason
that eagle looked at the chickens and said I’m not an ugly chicken I’m an Eagle.
They said you’re not an eagle here you’re an ugly chicken, you don’t even look like us, I said I’m an eagle I was never designed to look like you and they said well you
let me tell you something a little ugly chicken come on over here, and before you
come over here, let me let you know that there whole bunch of chickens who have my back. There is just one of you. He said but you don’t understand as an eagle I could kill all y’all not all all just scrolled it out, alll y’all, and before you know it the chickens that just beat up all them ugly chickens, aka
Eagles, walked over to this eagle and started pouncing on him and before you
know it just one wing knocked the whole gathering of chickens across the chicken coop and two other ugly chicken said oh my gosh, did you see what he just did? And then the other chickens pounced on him and he took his wing, and knocked another one and maybe where you don’t know but he flapped his wings and before you know he was flying above the chicken coop, the other chickens who were now starting to heal, looked up at him and said man how in the world did you do
that? He said you can do it to because you’re an eagle, they said no they told
us that we were ugly chickens and the eagle looked at the other Eagles and
said it doesn’t matter what they called you, really matters much more is what you answer to, that you have to know something about yourself. We’re never going to shift the
circumstances of young people, I fundamentally believe that the one thing
we had to teach young people again is who they are and what is within them. I tell first-generation students all the time, they think things like
oh you know I’m not going to be be likely to be successful in college
I’m, I’m struggling in college because I’m first-generation. I’m like boo, you’re
first generation, that means you’re first in the family, just because your
first, doesn’t mean you’ll be the last! In fact, you got to tell yourself I am
the first and because I’m the first every cousin that I know, every auntie
that I know, every uncle that I know, every kid in my neighborhood, in my
church, in the choir, is going to go to college because I went. That’s the kind
of mentality that we have to have. But the reason why the story kind of hit
me because I thought it was bad by the time I was rereading the story I
couldn’t finish it, I thought that this is not a book for kids, this is a keynote for
a conference. But here is what I ask you, prostate,
is and I started thinking about it for the for the students that we work with
that’s one way you can apply it, let me ask you a question, I don’t want look at you
because I don’t want to I’m not talking at you unless it relates. Why do we go
in meetings acting like children? How do people who work in opportunity programs go into meetings being afraid to speak. up? How do people who have access to
opportunity who change the circumstances of young people go into a meeting and
say I don’t want to speak up because if I speak up they may not like me. Boo you
We’re building a design for people not to like you. You can’t work in opportunity
programs and expect people to just {arm gestures towards speaker} You gotta make sure they’re there, I love
when they’re there, oh I love it when they’re there, they’re not there I’m not
coming. No boo, if you work in an opportunity program you’re going to
probably be the last person that they think about, but at least they thought about you. I tell my students all the time nowadays. especially Arnold and Maureen,
If you know you’re going to do this kind of work, that we see ourselves doing,
and then you’re going to think that you’re going to be invited to every
Christmas party and every holiday social then you’ve got it twisted. You have it wrong but I love it because sweet honey in the rock my grandmother was she was alive used to introduce me to all these folks, sweet honey in a rock, how the song starts {begins to sing} we will believe in freedom cannot rest. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it’s done.
We who believe in the freedom cannot rest. We who believe in freedom cannot
rest until it’s done. {stops singing} If you believe in opportunity and you
believe in freedom you can’t rest. If they don’t invite you to the
Christmas party you can’t stop working for opportunity. If they say well don’t
bring her because every time she comes she’s gonna always talk about them poor
kids, then you’re right. I’ve met too many of us and say I don’t want to go to
the meeting if I go to the meeting I’m gonna have to bring up race. I’m tired of being
the only one who brings up race. Well you know why you’re the only one brings up
race, because you’re the only one who has the courage is to bring it up. So we got to express, express, express the reason why I get so emphatic about it because I firmly
believe that we are losing some of our foot soldiers who are starting to sell out,
not sell out in the way we was used to talk about it, but sell out because they want to be accepted. You may not be accepted, you got to go into the chicken coop and
understand you’re an Eagle and if they say you’re an ugly chicken you got to learn how to know that it’s not what you call me baby, it’s what I know I am. I came to the meeting to speak up for those whose voices are never heard. I came to the
meeting to speak up for the low-income students and the no income. Since I
was in Memphis, Tennessee talking about low-income students at the end. A young
woman raised her hand and she said Dr. Strayhorn what about me? You keep talking about
low-income, I’m no income. I ain’t got a dollar to my name do i matter? And I said
yes you matter and there are people in this room who will fight for her justice.
There are people who don’t see it I say all the time in social media you’re
responsible for what you see. If you understand I was sitting in a meeting
listening to people who were talking about my friend over here, who talked to
me, Alex where are you? We talked about the Summer Bridge programs. I was in a
meeting talking to someone, a group of people who are starting a Summer Bridge
Program on their campus for low-income students. Listen to this they said we’re
starting to become a bridge program for low-income students we really want to
make sure we market it the right way so we’ve already have you seen our glossy
brochure Dr. Strayhorn? It is so beautiful and they showed it to me and
they paraded it around it was very very breathtaking and so they said yes, we’ve
got this beautiful brochure and we also have a matching notebook so we’re going
to mail all this stuff out and we’re going after, I’m talking the lowest of the low income. Now I listen to them, I said and
where you going to mail it to? They said what do you mean? Do do you realize that most low, low income students don’t have a permanent
mailing address? They say well no we have we’re gonna make sure we have an address
on record for them and that’s gonna be their aunties address because they’ve
already figured out how to do it in school, they have resilience, they know
how to navigate through our system, our systems need to change. So what I’m
arguing for is not just that we change but that we change and preserve who we are as Eagles and that we stop telling students that they must change and we
start to change the enterprise, change the system of higher education, so that
it is more accommodating to the students that we’re going after. We know a lot
about this enterprise you know there are 21 million college students in this
country, there are 4,300 colleges and universities, about half of
those are community colleges interestingly enough still today about a
third of college students identify as first-generation. Now 12 years ago 10
years ago when I finished my doctoral degree I realized yeah 10 years, yeah I said
33, look at me. Look I did lie in church today. First he asked me my age, I’m not to tell you all my age I see people with Facebook live we will talk
about it later ok all right, so 10 years ago, 10 years ago when I finished my
doctor when I finished my doctorate, I remember writing my first piece
ever 2005 Strayhorn on first-generation college students. If you
see it, don’t read it, if someone gives it to you burn it. Read Strayhorn
2015-2017, he knew what he was talking about by then, but 2005 I was fresh out
of my doctoral program, I was writing the way they taught me to write, about the
people that we help, I loved [garbled]
When I directed a Center at Ohio State he was a senior fellow in my center. We shared popcorn together at a conference but this, because of my
doctoral program taught me that students to be successful must integrate in the
campus environment he called it academic and social integration, we
called it academic suicide. Go ahead and integrate into that campus if you want
to and let go of auntie and grandma and the cultural, I’ve met a Latino student who
said he has been on this campus, he was trying to integrate, and he had been on
this campus for a whole semester and had not run across a single person who spoke
Spanish to him and he missed his language. That’s what that’s a
consequence of a culturally void concept of integration, this idea that the
student must sell themselves, rip themselves from their cultural of origin
and integrate completely into the academic system. What happens when you
graduate, where’re you going then and for so many of our students they want to go
back to the community and I tell students all the time for your ability
to go back to the community that means you must preserve ties with the
community. If you’re going to help this community, you can’t help the community
you don’t know, you can’t help a community you’ve given up, so you got to
figure out how to navigate negotiate these spaces before you know it I
started writing because that’s what they taught me to write about integration til
one day I woke up. On my jean jacket I wear sometimes I have a button that says stay woke and students in Rutgers University gave that to me {whooping} and yeah Ok, Rutgers in the house. I still got that pin they gave me, it says “Stay Woke” I wear it everywhere I go because we ought to all stay woke and you can
have your eyes wide open and still be asleep. And in 2005 I was asleep when I
wrote first-generation college students it wasn’t until 2013 when studying
foster youth that I had an epiphany about first-generation. I was collecting data from foster youth there are 400,000 foster youth in this
country every single year 20,000 of them aged out of the system upon aging out
being 87 percent of them say I need higher education in order for me to
be successful 87% of them say I need access, I need opportunities in order to
be successful. Still today less than 9% of foster youth
in this country ever earn a college degree, tremendous loss of human talent,
and that’s what motivated me to do the work and to study them. While studying
them I asked a young man said are you first generation? He said I don’t know
how does that define us that is defined by the federal government as first,
listen to this policy language, it is so it’s set by people who do not understand
people. Right so he said policy language around first-generation, the federal
government defines it as first in your immediate family. What is an immediate
family, I lived with my biological family my entire life I would describe them with a
lot of words but not immediate. First in your immediate family to complete
college, so I said first in your immediate family to complete college. Young man looks at me and says okay but which family? Don’t do that, don’t take me to church with this hmms. So which family right? Which family? He said what do you mean? I said what did he mean? He said well I have 3 foster families, one adopted family and while talking
Tri-State he says oh and I have a biological family. I don’t even know
them. Which one determines if I’m first generation? Our trio programs, our, our
opportunity programs rest on policy language that is slippery. It masquerades around its morphed for more than 70 years as if it
is objective. That is as if everybody knows that they’re first generation or not
and the interesting thing about it as I started opening, allowing the foster youth insight to open up my conception that maybe we don’t really know what we mean by first
generation? This idea first in your immediate family. What is a family? Who
prepares young people with the academic know-how for college? Is it auntie is it
grandma? Is it a pastor, is it the one they lived
with, is the one they stay with, is one they spend the summers with, for me was
everybody was part of the family. So I think we have to think about it and
so what I’m arguing for I’ve tried to stay away from when I was in my doctoral
program, people would use this term it drove me absolutely crazy, paradigm shift
y’all ever heard people say that. Now listen, I don’t know about you, but the
reason why that term gives me movement is because when people say paradigm
shift like I expected, can I just be honest with you, when I heard paradigm shift the
first time and I was in my doctoral program I expect and people say I’m
talking, we need a paradigm shift I thought well that sounds great but I
thought a paradigm shift would be like a paradigm shift would happen and all of
us in here be like whoa did you feel that oh my god my paradigm just shifted. That is nuts like I don’t do that again my paradigm just shift, don’t make my
paradigm shift please, right but most things that happen in higher education
are not like that. In fact when people use the term paradigm shift they’re not even talking about stuff that you would notice what happened. I’m going to campus one time listening to some senior level administrators talking it that I
think what we need on our campus is a paradigm shift, we need a paradigm shift
where you know really, students are at the center what are you talking about
that’s the way it should have always been. Paradigm shift? Student Centered is a paradigm shift? So what was it before faculty centered? Who says that? We are a campus that is an administrator center. No one says that. We are building
centers, we are parking lot centers no we need a paradigm shift we need to be
student-centered. I was also at a diversity conference and the person said what you’re arguing for Dr. Strayhorn is a paradigm shift where we ask students
what is it that they need>No that’s not a paradigm shift, that’s what our
business should have always been about. if you go to the store to buy something
and the clerk comes over you and you say I want this shirt they say nope, you’re
not gonna get that shirt, this shirt right here is the one I want for you. How
was that transaction going to go? It was always person centered – paradigm shift –to me paradigm shift should be actually pretty seismic. Some of the stuff I’m
gonna talk about in just in a few moments is going to be that kind it’s
going to be like whoa wait a minute. I felt that one but I think in order for
us, us being the enterprise of higher education to get where
we must go, we really do need that kind of seismic paradigm shift. One that makes
an uncomfortable movement in our system. I believe that we need to think
about terms like first generation, need to think about the language that we use
in higher education, and that’s what we do with access, with success. This what I
love about what we’ve done in higher education. There are 21 million college
students in this country, we have more African-Americans and Latino Americans
and Asian Americans and Native American biracial, multiracial, LGBTQ, low income, no
income, first generation, better instead a reason why I named all those groups is a
moment I don’t name a group and get off this stage somebody comes up to me and
says you didn’t name my group and don’t, doesn’t my group matter? Of course
your group matters everybody holler out a group of yours, if your group was not named just name it now for yourself. Every single group matters. We’ve opened up access for
those from rural neighborhoods, from urban neighborhoods, from suburban
neighborhoods, those whose families were international . Since we opened up access
in fact I firmly believe, and you can push back on this during the Q&A, I firmly
believe we’ve opened up access so much that we really don’t know what to do with the diversity that we’ve now created on our campus. It’s why every day one of us in
the paper about our campus having some sort of disagreement whether it’s owned
along the racial lines or political lines nowadays or sexual orientation
lines because we brought so many different people to our camp. We don’t
know how to harness it. Although we often talk about doing so. The reason why
that’s really important I think when it comes to access we’ve done a better job
with access than we’ve done with success. We have a lot of people in higher
education but a lot of the newcomers to higher education don’t finish. I tell
students, I tell faculty, I tell staff, I tell grandma, I tell pastors, I tell people,
anybody I can tell, I’ll even tell wait, the bartender here, you know that
access without success is useless. There’s no point in going to college if
you’re not going to successful. I was in a coffee shop in Michigan one time, I
don’t know while I was in Michigan working with Ohio State, but I was in
Michigan at a coffee shop and a student came up and he had on this really
wonderful sweatshirt of this University. I just happened to ask, oh did you go to
that school? He said no but I’ve got really cool sweatshirt. I was at Oregon
State University on their campus a med student who had a sweatshirt on, so I said
so you go to Oregon State? He said oh no my friend goes here but I got this really
cool sweatshirt. What is the point of having the cool sweatshirt and by the
way our students are that way, our students will come to our campus and for,
be there for a semester, be there for a year and take the coffee mug and take
the hat and before you know it they’ll be at a coffee shop or in their job room
sporting the bumper sticker but they don’t have the degree and what we know
is that the return on the investment is greatest for the one who collects the degree by the end. Access without success is useless. What’s the point of coming to
college if you’re not going to graduate? Thank you, but we need to make sure that we do what we can for students to graduate and I think that part of that is the
paradigm shift I’m talking about. Let’s talk about this paradigm shift, shown on
the screen is a statement taken from a school if you can’t read I’ll highlight
it for you. This is what some of the universities say. Things like this
university is an equal opportunity employer, believes that students learn
best in a diverse, inclusive community. That’s a powerful statement. Learn best
in diverse and inclusive communities. We’ll come to that. We also are an
institution that’s committed to academic excellence through diversity, excellence
through diversity, in other words the statement implies you cannot be
excellent unless you are diverse but diversity alone is insufficient for
achieving excellence, its excellence through diversity and this is
interesting, that it efforts to create a climate and there they’re talking about campus climate. I first heard of that term
campus climate, campus climate, I thought it was a question about what was the
average temperature was in the classrooms. Campus climate but campus climate is
actually the condition circumstances in which students must learn and grow and
develop and we get to create those climates for students that often foster
growth and development also listen to this, that for students who have
been historically underrepresented, I used to write that, underrepresented in
my work, historically underrepresented. What does it mean to be underrepresented? The more active term that I use now is what is it? So it is one thing to be historically underrepresented, that is, that historically sometime in the past, your
representation was beneath, lower than what one might expect. Historically
underrepresented but what does it mean to be at all times misrepresented or
as {unsure of name} tells us intentionally misrepresented. What does
it mean to be a student on one of our campuses who’s not only historically
underrepresented and intentionally misrepresented but also at
times they feel invisible, not cared about, their needs are not, not only
tended to but not known. For so for me this paradigm shift I’m arguing for
requires us to think differently about some things, I remember students and the
reason why I put this picture up is not just because my hair was on fleek that
day but because, no it’s not just that it’s because I remember when I took this
picture I was on a campus giving a talk and the students said Dr. Strayhorn do
you mind if I could take this picture with you. I said I love pictures, let’s
take a picture and then the administrator, not this one is in the
picture, the one who is putting on the event said well Dr. Strayhorn you should
be in the center, I said why would I be in the center? He said because you’re the
speaker is all about you I said no no no it’s always about them, it’s always about
the student ,students should be in the center because if it had not been for
the student I wouldn’t have anything to say. I wouldn’t have I would have no
books, no journal articles, no cause, nothing to write, no insight to
share, if it were not for students. There would be nothing, but you know we would
be filing federal paperwork and state paperwork for grants or who have no one
to work with in our program if it wasn’t for students. Students must be first and
they must be center, student centered. By the way, student centered paradigm
shift and a paradigm shift I’m talking a seismic paradigm shift. How much would
parking cost in a student-centered campus? Who would set curriculum on a
student-centered campus? I love my faculty colleagues in the room, you’re
like ,oh are you, are you joking right now? Yes, I’m not, I’m not saying that the
students themselves, I’m saying go to all of our institutions, any institutions
you work with, any institutions you work at, and look at who sets the curriculum. It is a team of people not a single person is a student, what about a student rep on the curriculum committee? Student centered, student centered where am I? I remember my mom and I when my mom and dad have an empty nest now that all of us are old enough they could have their house now, so you know we were out of their house and we went back to visit me, my sister, my brother and one
time my brother said oh I love being back here at the house, my mom said you
will always love being here, this is your house, this is this is our house too we
said this is our house? she said yeah this is your house I want
y’all to treat this like it’s your house. It is going to always be your house aka
Tri-State my mom said this house is y’all centered, kids centered. So I
listened to her and what I did was because when I was in my mother’s house,
I’m going to do this, but this was my house now too I went in the living room, my mom has a beautiful rust leather sofa and I
started thinking about what I do in Columbus, Ohio, so I kicked my shoes off
and I could jump back in the chair and I put my feet up in the chair, I was
watching one of my favorite shows, my mom came downstairs she looked over at me
and the sofa, she said are your feet in my sofa? I though you said this is my house, she’ said you’d better get your feet out of my sofa before they, I’m not going to say because somebody’s Facebook livng me, my mom would be ready to kill me. Listen this
is the point before you know, what my mom and said this was a kid centered house
reminded me that the rules don’t always apply the same way. Where could students
put their feet up on campus if it was truly student-centered, where can
students go to meet one another on a truly student-centered campus, where’s
their own campus that brings students faculty and staff together informally on
a student-centered campus? Contact points are huge especially when it comes to something I’ve written a lot about and that students
sense of belonging. I’m so convinced that this is one of the missing keys, it’s not
just because I wrote a book about it, just because every day I would look at
something on the news or I meet a young person basically says you know why I
dropped out of that campus?You know why I didn’t finish my degree? You know what
I changed my major? Because I did not belong I did not feel as if I belonged there
and it’s almost to me like a national chorus of people who are singing this
song, who remind me that belonging does matter and belonging matters because
part of it is though these touch points. Well it’s through relationships that
students start to feel as if they belong. On a student-centered campus where
can students go to start to build those relationships? In the book
I offer this model of a sense of belonging, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow says
this as humans we all have basic human needs, air, water, food, shelter, sleep and
sex. Don’t shoot Maslow said it not me. But you need to get some because if
you don’t, no seriously he says if you can’t even get to higher
order needs until these more basic needs are met so look, I’ll just telling what Maslow says, I’m just telling you. You trying to figure out why you can’t be
self actualized it is because. {laughter} Once these physiological needs are in
place higher order needs emerge like safety and security. In the book in 2012
I talked about physical safety and security but it was in 2013 at a Student
Leadership Conference at Hope College where I’ve talked to students who
reminded me Dr. Strayhorn, it is not just physical safety and security, there’s so
many other dimensions to it. Things like my emotional safety and security, by the
way, something that’s impacting campuses, I just tweeted about it other
day and by the way that means that I can be President of the United States
because I stay on Twitter. That’s my last comment I got to get it
out because I have to go to DC tomorrow I’m just going to get out now while I’m in
safe ground, I hope that is safe ground If not, oh well. get with me, so I was
tweeting about it but, I said on Twitter the other day, this, this problem that is
impacting higher education is really complicating our work in ways I don’t
think we understand. That so many of our campuses are impacted right now by food
insecurity. Whether you know it or not there are
students on your campus, in your program, who are hungry. You know why they can’t
pass the math class? I told a professor this who is at Wayne State University, she tells the story of giving a test back to a student who failed a test. He pats her on the shoulder and said you failed the test you need to study more. She looked at me and said no I don’t. He said you don’t want to get a degree? She said I want a good grade,
but I don’t need to study more I need to eat more. She understands the connections, Edith and I were talking earlier I fundamentally believe that one of the
problems that we have in this country right now, we don’t have people who see
the connections, how these problems are connected to one another, we live in a
world, it’s not that you know, our education problems are over here and our
economic problems are over here and our social problems are over here and our
health problems are over here. They are systemic and intersecting. In fact I
think that’s why Hurricane Katrina confused all of us. It’s because we
thought was just a storm and just about dams and just about levees but before
you know it it proved to us that all of our problems, there is an educational impact and health impacts and community development impacts and all of that matters. It’s why
the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, people ask me all the time how does your work on belonging connect to real life problems. Look at the slide,
the slide says that a basic physiological need is water.
You’ll never produce honors and scholars students if they’re drinking unhealthy
water. That’s the connection right there and if we can’t see it, I bet we can, then
those who of us of us who can see those connections need to make sure that those
who set policy, those who inform policy, those who make campus based decisions,
also see those connections. It’s food insecurities that are also troubling our
campus but safety and security just yet another level of needs, higher order
needs, Iike love and belongingness emerge students reveal to me over my research
that love and belongingness, this sense of belonging, is a feeling that’s a really
important part of this. It’s a feeling you feel like you belong, this is the
part where I lose a lot of senior level administrators. They’d say, really you’re a
whole book we brought you to speak, it’s not feeling, let me tell you it’s a dynamic feeling, it’s a feeling so strong, something inside so strong, that if a student does not
feel it they will leave your institution. And diversity matters in this because
some of that feeling comes from, I told you earlier about the Latino student who
said I’ve been on campus the whole semester and not a single person feels like home to me, not a single person has spoken
Spanish to me, I’ve met students, two students who were in, I had some money for the National Science Foundation, I was studying people of color in STEM fields
and I’ve met two students, believe it or not, who told the story of a teaching
assistant who walks into the lab after they were working on a lab and they
failed this experiment, failed the experiment and the TA was so upset with
them, two African-American males, so upset with them that she pushed the whole
experiment on the floor and said now clean it up. And what happened to the
young man, well they started thinking why did she say clean it up, who does she think we are? Is this racism, is this her, a temper problem? What’s going on right here and they were left on their own to figure that out? Before you know it the message that they internalize was I don’t belong, I don’t
fit in here, I can’t be respected here, it was so much so that those both of those
young men ended up changing their majors. Fortunately they completed their higher
education but not in the majors that they initially wanted to be in, all
because of a single incident with the person who has the title of teacher. Teaching assistant who has tremendous impact on students, it’s a feeling, but
it’s also true that if you’re not careful you’ll start to pick up this
message that you don’t belong, students don’t belong, and I think one of the
things that students are worried about is that they’re not feeling the sense
that they are cared about, that people like them fit into our institutions, that
there are people who understand them and their needs, like the folks in this room
who are working the opportunity program. So let me tell you one of my most keen
insights about this, it was really cool. I was on a campus back in, last year, 2016
and in the book I wrote this sense of belonging is a shared faith, I’m a man of
faith so shared faith, faith for me as a man of faith is a faith as a belief. it’s
a value. so I started saying shared faith. Where do students get this faith in us?
Where do students start a belief? Where do students start believing in us and
why in the world do students believe in us? It was last year I had the best
epiphany about this August 11th 2016 now I was at SUNY Binghamton giving a talk, {woohoo, cheers from crowd} I forgot where I am, yeah, yeah okay so SUNY Binghamton giving a talk, and
just before I went on the stage my cell phone buzzed and I look down, I got this
email, you can’t read it, don’t worry I’ll highlight some of it for you, got this
email from a student who said hey, Dr. Strayhorn is it okay if I move in a day
earlier? I thought, move in a day, why are you writing to me? I don’t work in
housing or res life and move in a day, I’m not looking for a roommate, what in
the world’s going on? So before you know I’m so confused, have you ever been so
confused by an email that you just hit delete because you knew it wasn’t for
you? When I first started my career that’s what I would do sometimes when
things are just too confusing, I didn’t even struggle with them, I just said it
clearly it’s not for me, I hit delete let me tell you it’s really difficult for me
to write a book about belonging and give hundreds of talks about helping students
and people being Eagles all across the country and then hit delete on an email
that could be from a student who needs me. Sometimes you got to lean in for
understanding, they may be talking in a way that you cannot understand on the
phone, the accent may be heavy, the student may be so confused they don’t
even know what words to use, but sometimes we who believe in freedom and
worked in opportunity programs have to be patient with students and families and
lean in for understanding, so rather than hit delete I thought, who in the world is he
writing to and what? So I wrote back and said help me understand what you’re
referring to move in where? He wrote back and said moving on campus. Oh moving on
campus what campus? Your campus, Ohio State University, why in the world
are you writing me I don’t work in housing you should be talking to people who work in housing and res life. Have you contacted any of them, he said oh yes I’ve contacted three of
them. He sent me the names and a quick Google search reveals that none of those
people work in housing or res live and in fact one of the person has never worked
at Ohio State a day in their life, they have been incarcerated in the state of
Ohio but you probably shouldn’t talk to them about moving into your residence
hall a day early. So before you know I wrote back to the young man and said do not talk to him, please listen you should talk to these people and I copied my
friends on the email who work in Residence Life and housing. So I’m about to begin to talk and need you all to check on him, make sure he’s okay. After my talk
I’ll check and see if you’re okay. I finished my talk and looked at the
string of emails down the last one was from him I opened it up and said Dr.
Strayhorn you rock, my mom thinks you’re great. I thought I am single so she
should give him my number, so before you know it I started reading
the email and looked at, watched my friends who work in housing and res life
helped this young man figure out that he could move in a day early. I wrote him
back and copied all my colleagues and said hey by the way, where did you get my
name? In my email? Is my name on some wall in the bathroom that says hey are you lost,
dazed and confused, contact Strayhorn. {laughter} Because if so, I got to get it down. He
said no no no no no no I remember when I first met you, so does my mom, because
when we came to visit Ohio State during one of the visit weekends. you were
the keynote speaker and at the end of your talk. you said if there’s ever
anything I can do to help [laughter] You want to know when students started
developing faith in us it’s when we say stuff like that, you want to know when
students started thinking that we’re here to help and we’re not here to hurt
that they can depend on us and they can drop by our office any time, when you say
you have an open-door policy. When you say hey let me know how you did on that quiz, how you did on that test. Students and families are listening to us but before I close two things I have to tell you. I’m arguing
for a paradigm shift where we really start thinking about the words that we use.
Where we think critically about the classifications and the categories, that
we think our students see themselves in, that we’re going to start thinking about
these terms like student centered and then pushing our colleagues and our
campuses and our programs I think what would we truly be like if we were truly
student-centered and students were at the center and if we ever, you know, lose
track of that that we turn to the beneficiary of the program for some
insights. I think students have a lot to say to us about the work that we do. My
best wisdom about this though doesn’t come from our research and I’ve talked
to you about a lot of it, it doesn’t come from the book about belonging, it actually
comes from this precious woman here my maternal grandmother, Creola Evelyn Warner, she was born October 6, 1925, she went to Elizabeth City State University
in fact, okay okay okay in fact what I did after my gramma, let
me tell you something I miss my grandmother, there’s not a day that goes
by that I think about her, there’s not a day that goes by that I wouldn’t give
everything I have to hear her on the phone one more time, my brother went to
Elizabeth City State University, one of the first things I did after she died
was I started a scholarship in her name because I knew that my grandmother, who
was a teacher in 1925 born then and 40s goes to school, gets a degree in language
arts, what we now call English, my brother decided to be a teacher. She was a
teacher in North Carolina, Craven County public schools, you know Craven
County? Oh my gosh Craven County, Growing up with my grandmother you would go into Piggly Wiggly, you know that that is? And you would go into Piggly Wiggly and
everybody in Piggly Wiggly would say Miss Warner, oh my gosh you were my second grade teacher, the person who chopped the meat would say, Miss Warner, oh my gosh you were my third grade teacher, the manager of the
Piggly Wiggly would say, Miss Warner you were my fifth grade teacher, you would go to
Hardee’s one of the places my grandmother loved to go for breakfast,
you would go into Hardee’s and all the people who working hard to say ah Miss
Warner’s you were my fifth grade, I thought North Carolina only had one teacher, when I grew up. In fact when I was staying with my grandmother one time, on my laptop the one I’m using tonight, no that’s not the one I’m using tonight, but it was in the room, she said baby you’re so good on those computers
when when I die I want you to make my obituary in my honor, I want you to get on that computer, I want you to make my obituary. My grandmother died I decided to do
everything she told me to do so I got on my computer and I created her obituary. I
drove from New Bern no Trenton North Carolina into New Bern North Carolina
what the Kinkos and I had her folder, her program in the folder, I handed it to the
woman as I entered Kinko’s that said hey I need 300 copies of this because my
grandmother’s died and the woman name is Kate, Katie, Kate, Caitlyn with a K and Katilyn opens the folder breaks down in tears. She said Miss
Warner’s gone? I said did you know Miss Warner, She said she was my fourth grade
teacher. That’s what you can do when you work in education, so I was not one of
those young people who grow up with this depressed image of teachers, I grew up a
grandmother when she was alive she put me in swimming lessons, my swimming
lesson teacher, when she met my gramma Miss Watner, oh my goodness, you were my fifth grade teacher. The reason why I went into education is not because I
wanted to be a keynote speaker, because I wanted to write books, because I wanted
to go to Hardee’s one day and for everybody to know me,
because that’s what happens when you work in education. My grandmother would
tell me so many things when she was alive, she would say baby, listen you can
do anything you put your mind to, there needs to be more people who are telling
young people that. That it’s difficult to become something that you’ve never seen
but it’s not impossible to become something you’ve never seen, you’ve got
to get around people can make it possible, get around people who expose
you to what it is you’re trying to become. My grandmother was the one in
fact her life motto was love many trust few, learn to paddle your own canoe. Love
many, my license plate, love many it is the sign that hangs in my office. Love many, it’s
on the front door of the BB&T Bank that she’d banked at for years in Trenton,
North Carolina in her honor. When she was alive, this precious woman taught me so
much about education, November 1st, 2013 I found myself at PF Changs, you know what that is? All right good, so PF Changs, well one of my favorite places to eat we’re at PF Changs in North Virginia Beachm Virginia, my grandmother had never been there before, she’s sitting at the table, the waiter comes over said hey what do you
want to eat Miss Warner? And she said I don’t know, I’ve never been to PF Changs
she looks at me she says well, what should I get to eat. I said look my
favorite thing to eat is lemon chicken. She said to the waiter, I’m going to have
lemon chicken, because my favorite grandson told me that. And she said that
in the presence of my brother and my sister. Oh good day for me, I just knew I kinda
always knew I was the favorite, but I needed to hear it. I needed to hear it one time before she left us, November 1st, 2013. November 2nd I got on a plane that went back to Columbus, Ohio. November 3rd they put my
grandmother in a car and drove her to Trenton, November 4th I called her no
answer, November 5th I called her no answer, November 6th one
month after her 88th birthday I called her no answer. I called my mom, who was her only child and said hey mom we got to send
somebody over to Mas house because I keep calling and she’s not answering. I’m the favorite grandson surely she’s going to answer my call. My
mom has a cousin who has, we were talking about gifted and honors students, so my
mom has a cousin who has a gift for getting into locked buildings. {laughter} that’s how we’re going to refer to it now, a paradigm shift come on paradigm shift. Shift your paradigm, shift it. Right, turn around he’s not a criminal he has a gift for getting into locked places. If you get on his
level you could understand what he did and so my grandmother, my mom called her cousin, her gifted cousin, and said go check on my mother and surely enough,
despite the ADT alarm, he gets into her house and finds my grandmother stooped
over her kitchen table unconscious. Calls the paramedics, about three months ago I
was giving a talk in Wisconsin to a community college and right in front of
me was a group of people studying to be paramedics, called the paramedic, the
paramedics come to my grandma’s house, gets her, takes her to the hospital, they
called my mom who was her only child, my mom’s a public health nurse and they say
to her, my mom’s name is Linda, hey Linda, you need to come check on your mom because she’s 88 and she suffered an aneurysm
and as a result of the aneurysm and the size of it there’s not much we can do. My
mom goes to take care of her mom and then she called me says hey Rel you should
come and check on your grandmother because she suffered an aneurysm and
there’s not a whole lot they think that they can do for her and so what I did
was I got off the speaking circuit. I went down to Trenton, North Carolina to
check on my grandmother, this woman who had made so many sacrifices for me and because Edith asked me to do, it’s a perfect time to do it, I was in Lynnhaven Mall, I grew up from Virginia Beach, Virginia Lynnhaven mall. I remember being
something like seven years old and that was just like a little seven year old, I
mean I was probably even smaller than I was right now, you know seven years old
in the mall and I remember we were walking by Bally’s Music, Bally’s, there’s a store called Bally’s Music in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
I was walking by, seven years old, and I decided to touch the piano and my mom turned around and said who touched the piano? She knew it was me, there’s nobody there but me, she said who touched that piano, I said I don’t know. My mom said it had better not have been you, I am going to break your fingers we do not
have enough money to sit there and buy that piano. You touch that and break that piano I am going to break you and my mom, my grandmother who was the teacher steps in, intervenes between the
mom and the child. She says to the mom, her daughter, don’t talk to him like that.
Kids can’t hear you when you yell. Master teacher. She said to me she turn to say baby do you want to learn how to play the piano, yes mam, why you going to ask him that, we don’t have money to put in no piano I’ll have the money, my mom always
went berserk, but she raised a good kid, I’m proud for my mom, but it took that fire in her to get me to where I am today but that time, she said we don’t have money to do it. And my grandmother said we’re going to have to make a sacrifice, I said what’s a sacrifice my brother said we’d have to pay the money. My mom said I don’t
have enough money my grandmother said then I’ll have to get the money. Y’all turn your head I’m going to go to the bank. And she reached in her bank {reaches into his shirt – laughter} all my life that woman reached in her bank I don’t know how she kept all that money in there, it was crazy, but before you know it my grandmother put me in piano lessons {plays the piano next to the stage} and when my grandmother was alive we would go to churches like I told you and I’d saw mau what song we’re gonna sing? And she would say Amazing Grace, sometimes you say another hymm, but she says when I was like 8 years old we never sing my favorite song and the words of the song {music playing} There’s a bright side somewhere There’s a bright side somewhere There’s a bright side somewhere Don’t you give up Until you find it There’s a bright side somewhere {music ends and applause} November 19 I went to see my grandmother in the hospital. When I got there my mom I said I’m the fun size, my mom is the
funner size, I got there my mom had been there for weeks taking care of her
mom and I walked over to my mom, have you ever held somebody who was on the
verge of tears and right when you touched them that just opened up the floodgates?
It was the biggest loss, I hugged my mom and I embraced her in my arms and my mom just lost it and I could feel all of her weight on me I said mom you need to go home and rest,
she said I cannot go home and rest, because I got to take care of my mom. I
said you don’t have to take care of your mom, I’m going to take care of your mom.
She said but baby you’re not a nurse, I said no I’m a doctor. So before you know it the
nurse listened to the doctor and went home and I’m gonna tell Tri-State something, what I did for the next three days I am not ashamed to tell anybody I did it. I took
care of my grandmother. I washed her hair, I cleaned up her
messes, I changed her diapers, I told the people who were visiting her SHHH, she’s
trying to rest, I told the nurse please don’t force her to eat if she doesn’t
want to eat and people who were coming to visit, I was like it’s too many y’all
in the room. It is going to crowd her out. I took care of my grandma because that
woman made so many sacrifices for me. I tell young people all the time that no
matter where you go the opportunities that we’re going to open up for them
through these opportunity programs should never keep them from celebrating
and taking care of the people who help them get to where they go. Got to
remember that it takes a village to, always remember the village. At night, I took care of her and went to sleep when it’s time to go to bed, that nurse
came in the room she said do you want a cot to lay in. I said I don’t need a cot, I just want to be next to my grandma in this chair and hold your hand and I did that
on the 19th, the 20th I got up and did the whole thing over. I took care of her went
to bed that night, the nurse said you want a cot? I don’t need a cot I’m gonna sit in this chair. She said that chair is so uncomfortable. I said as long as my
grandmother is comfortable I am willing to be uncomfortable. Tri-State some of us
have to be willing to be uncomfortable so that students can be comfortable on our
campuses and through our program and what I did on November 20th 2013 was that I held my grandmother’s hand throughout that night. On the 21st I did it all over again but
that night was unlike any other night. That night when I went to bed holding my
grandmother’s hand I sat in that uncomfortable chair and then I was
awakened by the most violent shaking with my grandmother’s hand I will ever
feel in my life. In fact I firmly believe sometimes I can still feel my hands
shaking just on random days and random moments taking me back to November 21st 2013. I was awakened out of my sleep I looked at my hand it was shaking, I looked at the clock it said 1:17 a.m. I turned to my grandmother I said Lord you okay now?
Y’all had to understand she had not said a word in weeks. They came to the office
or into the room and would say Miss Warner who was president of the United States and
she just sat there silently. Although I know she voted for Obama. They said Miss Warner, what was your child’s name? She only had one child, that’s my mom Linda,
she said nothing and the teacher who for 54 years taught in public schools when
they said Miss Warner what’s 2+2? She couldn’t answer the question but
November 21st at 1:17 a.m. while her hand was shaving I look at the clock and say Maw are you okay she said hey Rell I said mmmm, she’s coming back to life. So I reach for the button to call the nurse and the TV popped on and while I’m reaching for it, my
grandmother looked at me, she had not said words in weeks, she did not know her
own name but she looked at me she say hey Rell, let’s sing my favorite song. There’s a bright side some where, there’s a bright side some where, don’t you give up until you find there’s a bright side some where. Wait no no thank you I looked at my grandmother, I was crying –
this was our favorite song my grandma said baby what’s those things you go across
the country giving, I said keynotes, she said uhhuh, I’m going to get me one of them one day. She said wherever you go tell them there’s a bright side some where, there’s a bright side some where, don’t you give up until you find there’s the bright side some where. My
grandmother was alive I always went to her house when I had good days I went to
my grandma’s house and when I had bad days I went to my grandma’s house when people
broke up with me I went to my grandma’s house, when I broke up with them I went to my grandma’s house but in 2013 after my grandmother died I never went
back to her house and I realized last year Edith, that had been three years
since I’d been to this place that I called home. Called my mom and said I’m
going to my grandmother’s house cause I think I owe it to her. I got to New Bern
North Carolina to uber into, my grandmother didn’t even have a street, she lives
on highway 58 south. I went to my grandmother’s house and listened as I got
out of the uber and my feet hit the grass. my grandmother has a big yard, a big tree in her front yard that I fell out of when I was 9 years old, she had a
chicken coop still with chickens in it behind her house, I used to chase her
chickens and she would stand in the kitchen washing dishes and say don’t run my chickens, and I would keep chasing them all over the whole yard and as my foot got out of the
uber and almost touched the grass I looked at the grass and I realize she had a
really lovely yard. I never came to that house for the grass. I looked in the
front yard and saw the tree and realized although I fell out of the tree and have memories of that I never came to that house for the tree.
I looked behind her house I saw the chickens I didn’t want to chase
them because I realized at that point I never came to her house to chase the
chickens. What made it home for me was that precious woman inside of that house.
I came to remind Tri-State and those who need to hear it, students don’t come to our institutions for chairs, for desks, for hallways, they
never come to our institutions, oh my gosh have you seen our buildings, our
buildings are just they are LED sustainable! Students don’t come to our
institutions say have you ever seen our hallways, our hallways, I mean
they’re like the best hallways ever. Students find a sense of belonging
because of the people in this room being at that institution, so on your most
troubled day, on the day where you think the funding dried up, your program
doesn’t matter, that you’re not making a difference, just remember there’s a
bright side somewhere. Thank you.

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About the Author: Oren Garnes

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