Reflections from Black History Month
What does Black History mean to me?
I have never actually taken the time to truly reflect on what Black History month means to me. Because of my role as a major gift fundraiser with the University of Notre Dame, I am always on the go from one city to another, one plane trip to another or one state to another. Add being a husband and father to my list of joys and responsibilities, my life sometimes moves at the speed of lightning. However, taking a few moments to sit back and reflect on the personal meaning of Black History month, to my surprise, stirred up mixed emotions for me. On one hand, I feel a strong sense of gratitude for the many opportunities and blessings I have and continue to experience. On the other, I am reminded of the countless Black Americans who look like me and who come from similar circumstances but have not had access to the same opportunities. Let me explain.
Growing Up Numb
Being raised by a single mom and having a dad with a serious physical disability after suffering a football injury in high school I taught myself how to get things done and not complain. Sure, growing up in tight socioeconomic circumstances and without a lot of the luxuries so many in middle- and upper-class America are used to, things were tough. I experienced discrimination. I experienced lack. I watched my mom and dad and others be overlooked or blocked from different opportunities. I was blocked from or overlooked for opportunities. However, I never wanted to complain or make excuses, so I simply focused on what I could change or could contribute to and became numb to the other challenges.
As I reflect on my life, God clearly had a plan for me that only He could have lined up so perfectly. I was one out of twenty-five children from my neighborhood who took the bus across to the beach side of my hometown to experience one of the most elite elementary educations in the nation. Then I ended up at an Episcopal high school that was built just in time for me to take college prep classes that prepared me for what would eventually become my college home, The University of Notre Dame. Not only did I get to study, learn at, and play football for one of the most prestigious universities on the planet, I was able to do so debt-free. As a young, Black male raised in tough circumstances, graduating from the University of Notre Dame with two degrees against all odds was extraordinary in itself.
Being able to accomplish that on a full scholarship and graduating without the burden of debt, however, was the real miracle.
Blessed Beyond Measure
Fast-forward to today. I am blessed beyond measure. I own a couple of homes. I raise money for the University of Notre Dame. I have a beautiful wife and family. I have the option to vacation or eat at nice restaurants. I can give charitable contributions to my church and local community organizations. Because of my education and financial freedom, I have many choices in front of me.
But what about the guys who look like me, who came from where I came from, who worked just as hard, if not harder, but the access to opportunity was not there for them? What about the guys and girls who look like me but for whom the challenges of poverty, racism and discrimination were too great to overcome, and they went the other way? What about the ones who never made it out of those grim circumstances?
It is evident that God had a plan for me. It is also evident that I was able to capitalize on the opportunities I was blessed to experience. However, what is also evident is that systemic inequities and lack of equal access to opportunity are real. What is also evident is that the racial wealth gap in this country is large and growing, and that communities of color and other historically underrepresented groups are falling further and further behind.
Reflections & Opportunity
As I reflect on Black History month, I feel a great responsibility to help educate others and explain to them how access to education and capital truly matters for all races to experience their best quality of life. The opportunity to be educated is great but having the opportunity to be educated and close to or totally debt-free is even greater.
I don’t have the answers to solve the challenges of systemic inequities. However, reflecting on what Black History means to me has reminded me to continue to use my God given talents and abilities to help close the gap on affordable and accessible education.
I can do this by helping to raise capital for initiatives like Impact Capital Funds as it spearheads the effort to reduce and eliminate student loan debt, close the wealth gap faster, and spread the word on the importance of access to education for all.
I am grateful for my opportunities. I want to help create those opportunities for others. That is what Black History Month means to me.