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I’m not going to lie, I like Kanye West’s music. What I don’t like is the overarching message that his lyrics promote. As UCLA’s African Student Union’s SHAPE (Students Heightening Academic Performance through Education) director, my staff and I spend our lives trying to instill a college-going culture into a community that has put education on the backburner. Granted, Kanye West addresses some deeper issues that other shallow artist do not, in one Rocafella marketing campaign, the work we do daily regresses to square one because having money is prioritized above having peace of mind.

If you know anything about Black history (or even American history at that), I am sure you can recall The Little Rock Nine Incident (September 1957) sparked by Governor Orval Faubus’ intervention regarding the desegregation of Central High in Arkansas. I am confident that you can also remember Alabama Governor George Wallace’s Stand at the Schoolhouse Door (June 1963) when he was confronted by federal authorities at the University of Alabama in Montgomery for trying to prevent two black students from enrolling. If not, them I’m sure your can recall all the lyrics to “Slow Jamz”. I hesitate to call it a celebration, but 50 years after the 1954 Brown vs. Board decision, segregation in public education still exists because legislation without implementation is worthless. History repeats itself and we as Africans in America have to ask ourselves two questions: Is California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger any different than Faubus and Wallace? What are we going to do to open access to higher education for the youth from our communities?

Education was kept from us longer than our freedom. Normally, when things are kept away from a person, it is because it is dangerous to the individual and may result in self-harm. Kanye West CD “The College Dropout” is a prime example of how we have been conditioned to think that our education is “fast food for thought” and unhealthy. In his book To Be Popular or Smart: The Black Peer Group, Jawanza Kunjufu articulates that “The oppressor used all of his tools-books, psychologists, doctors, schools, and later the electronic media—to portray Africans as genetically inferior” (13). To exacerbate the problem, today we portray ourselves as genetically inferior through rap and other forms of media, because our oppressor is willing to pay us chump change in comparison to their profit to do so. We as learners must realize that many of the math, science, and philosophy being taught in schools of all levels are merely boomerang. They were taken from Africa to Europe, translated reaccredited and then given back. Everyone know the intrinsic value of education or the exercising of one’s mind to strengthen it, but the enemy culture is more aware of the Black male’s intellectual potential than the Black male and therefore it will do any and everything it can to suppress what’s already exists inside of us…wisdom, history, and success.

Is a college degree worth it? Many people question the fair market value of a college degree, especially if financial aid is inadequate. It is disappointing to know that my people are the least willing to invest in the development of their minds. Thou shall not steal, but I will rejoice the day Black kids start stealing books from bookstores. According to the chart below (taken from the National Endowment for Financial Education), from a financial standpoint, college is more than worth it:

Education and Earnings: Annual Household Earnings
No High School Diploma: $20,724
High School Diploma: $34,373
Some College: $41,658
Bachelor’s Degree: $62,188
Professional Degree: $95,309

We always hear the about the mystifying “education outside of the classroom”. Those life lessons alone add extra value to the financial benefits of acquiring a college education. When I asked thirty Black Bruins “What are you gaining from college outside of the classroom?”, they had the following responses:

I developed…
independence (4), money management skills(4), responsibility, discipline, my identity (2), social skills (2), my critical thinking skills, political consciousness, a collective community attitude, what I want to do in life (2), as a person (2), my time and self management (5), my work experience and career plans, cultural tolerance (8), an increased hunger for knowledge, friendships (4), spiritually (3), writing skills (3), leadership skills (8), communication skills (2), my own view of the world, into an adult, a life-long network, an appreciation for diversity
I learned …
about who I am (6), how to plan, how to utilize resources, how to be organized, my history (2), why things are the way they are, how to deal with discrimination (2), what kind of person I am (2), my strengths, how to set goals, how to plan, how to be competitive (2), how to work with other people (2), how to value other people’s opinions, how to interact with the opposite sex (2), that success is a journey not a destination, how the real world works (2), my interest, how to share, how to research, how to stand up and articulate myself (3), my person in life, what makes me happy, to try new things, the inter connectedness of life, how to do presentations
I experienced…
studying abroad and traveling internationally (5), great teaching, a real world experience (2), entrepreneurship
I acquired…
public speaking skills, cultural tolerance (2), new ideas and perspectives, a glimpse of the real world, confidence, time to experiment, computer skills, time to prepare for life, a space to be creative, a sense of accomplishment

Even though our grade point averages are not based on these intangible skills, they cannot be discounted when speaking about the college experience. It wouldn’t be fair if I said you couldn’t gain these things from a rap career either, but I think it is fair to say that the chances of graduating from college and getting a record deal are incomparable. Kanye West is right; it does not matter what you major or minor in. All in all, you should double major in yourself. You should graduate college with the ability to say that I have a better understanding of who I am, and why I am. If we never reach that understanding, we will inevitably spend the rest of our lives trying to be someone we are not.

Disregarding the animalistic implication, the Black male has been identified as an “endangered species”. Last year, only a handful of Black males were admitted to UCLA, and of that, only 5 of the ones who enrolled were admitted based on solely academics. The remaining Black males student athletes. This year, only a depressing 167 Black students were admitted. Considering that UCLA has over 26,000 undergraduates, these numbers are below low, they are horrifying. With the exception of perhaps the higher echelons of corporate America, it can be argued that no place in the world parallels the social disposition that the Black male faces at UCLA. As a public land grant institution, it is obligatory that UCLA’s admissions, hiring practices, and curriculum be reflective of the community in which it exist, however the Black male Bruin serves as the prime example and victim of UCLA’s anti-African attitude. Therefore, the retention of the Black male at UCLA becomes just as pertinent as addressing the outreach concern.

If a Black male can’t even obtain a quality education at their local public university, what other alternatives does he have in today’s society if he chooses not to go to college? Rap? Professional sports? Entrepreneurship? Jail? Comedians? Racially-bias laws, gang violence, police brutality, the prison industrial complex, single-parent homes, drugs, alcoholism, and sexually transmitted diseases are some of the pervading social factors that negatively affect the Black male and Black community as a whole. It is essential that our Black women recognize that this is all part of California’s “Master Plan” to divide Black men and women with regards to educational attainment, flip, and destroy the Black family structure. According to the California Postsecondary Education Commission, no other community has as great a disparity between the number of women and men attending college than Blacks. The ratio is almost 2:1 (65% to 35%). Though sheltered by the veil of Westwood, just because the Black male has been extricated from his natural environment and the atmosphere has changed, that does not mean that his values will change. That was the myth that led to the failure of the High Potential Alternative Admissions Program, in which only 1 of its 50 participants actually graduated fro UCLA. To proactively counter these unconstructive vices, the ASU’s African Men’s Collective seeks to build cross-generational mentorship relationships so that Black men can help strengthen one another as opposed to tear each other down. Instead of regressing, by sharing our experiences, life lessons, and mistakes we can begin a cycle of progress that will eventually result in our mental emancipation.

The African Men’s Collective is Black male support group for all Black men at UCLA created to sustain and retain the Black male at UCLA. The organization breaks generational and educational barriers by unifying Black male undergraduates, graduate students, alumni, faculty and staff, and even prospective UCLA students.

Hence, the African Men’s Collective is organizing their first quarterly conference, “The College Dropout” on Saturday, April 17, 2004 from 8am to 5pm at UCLA. As the initiators of social change, we as Black males stand for what’s right or else we will fall for what’s wrong. We will be building bridges and addressing issues that affect the Black male Bruin, such as definition of a Black man, issues pertaining to Black women, the college experience, the importance of mentorship, and how society views the Black male. It is guaranteed to be a day of empowerment, understanding, and change


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Jullien's Purpose Statement

My purpose is to help as many people as possible reach their full potential by helping them making a living doing what they love and in the process of doing so achieve my own. I want to do this through writing, speaking, and creating offline and online spaces that facilitate conversations around purpose.

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