Monday, September 3, 2007

The Sleeper Must Awaken: Making Inroads

If you haven't already before reading this post read the Introduction. Reading the introduction will help explain this piece a bit.

When I was a junior in high school my mother decided that I should try and be accepted in a program called Inroads. The mission of Inroads is to develop and place talented minority youth in business and industry and prepare them for corporate and community leadership.

Me (Ehav Ever) as a teenager

The following excerpt is from the Inroads web-site.

*****Beginning of Excerpt*****
It's no secret that for years, people of color -- Blacks, Hispanic/Latinos, and Native American Indians -- were noticeably absent from the ranks of corporate North America. By June of 1970, it was time to make a change.

It was at that time that Frank C. Carr, our late founder, planted the seeds for what INROADS has become today. Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s landmark "I Have a Dream" speech, Frank quit his executive level corporate day job and committed to taking swift and decisive action to increase ethnically diverse employees in corporate management in the U.S., and to help change the way these candidates gained entry into the business world.

Moonlighting evenings as a computer tape disk operator, Frank spent his days creating INROADS by calling in favors from his former corporate colleagues and setting out to cultivate new partnerships. The mission -- to develop and place talented minority youth in business and industry and prepare them for corporate and community leadership.

Frank launched INROADS in his hometown of Chicago with just 25 college student interns and 17 sponsoring corporations. Today, INROADS is an international organization with more than 50 offices serving more than 5,000 Interns at over 600 companies.

In Kansas City there were a number of companies that were involved in the Inroads program. Inroads had a number of standards in order to get the best and the brightest.

An applicant for the National College Component of Inroads must:
  • Be a full time student.
  • Have a career interest in Business, Engineering, Computers and Information Sciences, Sales, Marketing, Allied Health Care, or Health-care Management.
  • Freshman or Sophomore in an accredited college or university.
  • College 2.8 Cumulative GPA (Grade Point Average).
  • Be a high school senior applying or already admitted to an accredited college or university.
  • Have a high school 3.0 cumulative GPA.
*****End of Excerpt*****

At the time I didn’t meet many of the educational standards and I couldn’t figure out why my mother wanted me to apply. The particular program that she was pushing me to apply for was a summer session where students would train with Inroads throughout the summer. I of course didn’t want to have anything to do with a program where I could not enjoy my summer. Lets face it you are only young once and summers are what define one’s youth. I didn’t want to sacrifice my enjoyment for anything that was going to like going to school and to me the Inroads program sounded like I would be going to school. Yet, as with a number of things in life my mother made me go. A friend of mine Asahn came along with us so that he could also apply for the program.

In order to get into the program there were two interviews that a person had to get into. I went through the first interview and all can say is that it didn’t seem like it was going well especially when the issue of my grades came up. At that time I had a 2.5 GPA out of a 4.0 GPA system, which to tell you the truth was not good at all. I was passed over to interview further with a woman named Ms. Tucker. I think only reason they didn’t reject me upfront was because I had a lot of community service work that I had been involved in. As Ms. Tucker looked at my application my grades at the time became the central focus. She really grilled me on my grades, and rightfully so. As she questioned me I found myself getting on the defensive more and more. I didn’t like the fact that I was being questioned about an interest that I didn’t have. That is to say I wasn’t interested in being in Inroads, yet I felt like I was on trial. As the interview came to its conclusion the last thing Ms. Tucker said to me was, “All I can tell you is with grades like this you will never be an engineer.”

It was as if that statement and that moment was frozen in time and that moment has been imprinted on my mind since I heard those words. I didn’t even want to be there and I received the roasting of a lifetime. I went home angry that I even had to waste my time with such a thing, and needless to say I was rejected for the summer program. Part of me really didn’t care about the rejection, after all I didn’t want to go there in the first place. I only went because my mother made me. My friend Asahn was accepted into the program and life should have gone on for the better, right? Yet, Ms. Tucker’s words stayed in my mind, and the statement “with grades like this you will never be an engineer” echoed in my thoughts. Even as time passed and thoughts of other matters came and went, her words remained as if they had been chiseled into my brain never to be forgotten. Those words loomed over me like some transparent, yet tangible force that I could never be rid of. When I turned I could see nothing over my should, but as I faced forward again it as if I could hear a whisper saying:

“With grades like this you will never be an engineer.”

For days I couldn’t stop thinking about her words and the more I thought about them the angrier I became. “With grades like this you will never be an engineer.” It was as if I was playing my favorite CD and then a song I didn’t like came on and was stuck in loop back. No matter how much I tried to fast forward I was stuck listening to a song that I don’t like and then I couldn’t get it out of your head.

“With grades like this you will never be an engineer.”

With each passing day I found myself not enjoying life like I did before Inroads. “With grades like this you will never be an engineer.” Food had no taste, sweat candy was sour, and summer was like winter. As those fateful words continued to haunt me I felt fury take over as I became engulfed in the fact that I couldn’t forget those words. “With grades like this you will never be an engineer.” Now logic should have kicked in at this point and simply made a case that this woman didn’t know you and your good deeds are what really matter. “With grades like this you will never be an engineer.” Yet, logic never made such a case and I didn’t feel right. The only way to describe it is like being on the verge of being sick, yet feeling healthy.

“With grades like this you will never be an engineer!”

Now mind you I was not angry with Ms. Tucker, but I was angry at the reality that I was allowing myself to be in. It was my fault that my grades were not as good as they could have been. After all I was the one who had procrastinated or simply did not study. I was the one who knew more about my comic books than about my schoolbooks. It was I who would simply lie about my grades instead of doing what was required of me. It was I who was walking all over my mother’s accomplishments after she faced great adversity to receive a good education and used that education to rise to the top of the Social Security Administration. In the 1970’s she faced racism and sexism yet she still made a brighter future for herself. What was my excuse, I couldn’t think of one. Worst of all it was I who was disgracing the memory of my father who was a scholar. The blame could only be placed in my hands and as I sat there thinking about it I became angry that I couldn’t get Ms. Tucker’s words out of my mind.

“With grades like this you will never be an engineer!”

So I stood up at that moment and said, Enough! I will show her, no I will show all of them.” It was then that I picked up my pride and my books and began to study. I began to study math with a passion, master science as if I invented it, and face my education with the concept that I could be smarter than I was choosing to be. At that point B’s became A’s, C’s became B’s, and D’s disappeared from my grade card. My semester GPA’s went from being 2.5 to 3.3 and 3.5. I began mastering math and even went on to tutor some of my fellow students. It was through my own anger with myself that I realized my potential and refused to settle for something less than I was.

When my senior year came my mother again tried to get me into the Inroads program. This time there was no summer program, there was simply the Inroads interviews and if chosen interviews with the companies. I had about 4 interviews on the day of the corporate meetings and most of them went well. Yet, there was one that went the best of them all and that was with a man named Gary Gray from MCI. I had made sure to get some information before hand about videophones since I had heard about the budding technology in a 1993 magazine and I brought up the topic during my interview. I also talked about my experience with an AT&T program where I built a battery charger and how it convinced me I wanted to be an engineer. After the interview Gary I saw him in the hallway speaking to another man and looking in my direction. They called over one of the workers from Inroads and there were further conversations. After she spoke to them she came to me and said that they men from MCI wanted to talk to me. As I went out to meet them, Gary introduced me to one of his co-workers and they offered me an internship right on the spot. I accepted and I was the first of the high school seniors to get a job that day.

A few months afterward when I was interning for MCI, Inroads had a training retreat at a resort near Branson, Missouri. During the retreat I ended up finding the bar at the resort and I went in and started talking to the bartender and the musician for the bar. I had been interested in music for a few years and I saw all the musical equipment and was enthralled. The head musician took me over to his equipment and he showed the ropes. At the bar I order several drinks that were without alcohol because I was only 18 at the time. One of the college interns for Inroads who I only remember only as Ms. Brown happened to pass by and saw me sitting at the bar drinking. She thought I was in the bar drinking alcohol, which of course would have been a big no no for an 18 intern. I quickly showed her that I was not drinking and I left the bar with her. Ms. Brown attended a university in St. Louis and was in Kansas City interning with Inroads. Ms. Brown was beautiful, about 5’6, dark complexion witty personality, very nice and I have to admit that I had a bit of a crush on her. I had established a bit of a connection with Ms. Brown before hand so as we left the bar I started talking at length about various subjects, as I often did back then. At some point in the conversation by chance I made mentions about my first interview with Inroads and what Ms. Tucker told me. “With grades like this you will never be an engineer.” I guess the way that it came off it seemed as if I was still bitter about what she told me, and maybe on some level I was. I could have been that I also stated something to the effect, “I showed her [speaking of Ms. Tucker] I showed them all” while defiantly waving my fist in the air.
Time went on, as time does, and my internship with MCI was over for the summer. I began my freshman year of college and my GPA for that first year was a 3.4 in the Banneker Honors College at Prairie View A&M University. It was a requirement that we call Inroads several times each month to keep them posted of our scholastic and personal progress. One day out of the scheduled call I received a message from Ms. Tucker to call her immediately. I couldn’t figure out what it was about so I called her back. When we spoke she mentioned that she had been told about my statements concerning my first interview with her when she told me that I would not be an engineer with the grades that I had.

You could imagine that this came as a shock to me since at this point I had forgotten about that whole incident. After all I was in college doing well, I had already worked my first internship with MCI after my graduation from high school in 1993, and I hadn’t talked to anyone about that incident except to Ms. Brown a full 5 months earlier. I felt a little betrayed since I figured it was Ms. Brown who told Ms. Tucker about my statements. Ms. Tucker explained that she did not remember saying what she said to me, but if she did she was really sorry. I told her that it was no big deal and that if she hadn’t have said what she did I may not have gotten so mad and started studying. After my conversation with Ms. Tucker I spoke to Ms. Brown and she hoped that I wasn’t angry with her. She said that she felt that I was still holding onto some anger and animosity towards Ms. Tucker.

Thinking about that whole incident got me to realize some things about myself. As I look back and see how sometimes my anger has worked to my advantage I can see the importance of it. When I focused my anger on my faults and conquered that part of myself who chooses not to be successful I was more alive than I was before. If it wasn’t for my mother making me go to those Inroads interviews and Ms. Tucker speaking the truth about my academic performance I don’t know where I would be right now. Thanks to my mother and Inroads I had a chance to grow and awaken from my educational slumber.


Miriam said...

Interesting. An easy read, too! I also have used anger to rouse me up to accomplish things. I've been trying to change that as of late. But i do recognize that it does help sometimes.

Ehav Ever said...

Hello Miriam,

Hopefully as time goes on my writing will get easier to read. Since I am heavily opinionated it is sometimes hard to get everything out the way I want to.

I look at anger this way. If your anger can drive you to action in situations where you normally would simply take the situation without confrontation then it is a good thing. It is bad when one has anger without purpose, just cause, or without the intent to change something.

The lesson I learned from the situation in this story is that I had only myself to be mad at. Once I realized that being angry without action wasn't any good, I was able to do something about the problem.