Episode one transcript
0:00:02.5 Ellen Adair: Our lives are defined by key moments. Sometimes expected, sometimes unexpected. This podcast explores the stories of extraordinary moments in our every day lives, the joys and celebrations, as well as the challenges and surprises. These stories provide opportunities to share ideas and takeaways to learn from, to witness moments where love becomes a living, breathing action that showcases strength, resilience, beauty and humanity. I am your host, Ellen Adair, and welcome to Love Takes Action, brought to you by New York Life, helping people act on their love and successfully navigate life's biggest choices since 1845. Today, we're going to explore being first in your family to attend college and how this transformational journey can be filled with ups, downs and love from unexpected places.
0:01:07.9 Captain Jamel Jones: I could give my last dollar to the club and still not be enough for what they've given me. Statistically, I should not be here. We are givers in my family, we love people when they least deserve it, 'cause that's when they really need it.
0:01:19.9 EA: And we'll talk with a college president about his vast experience getting kids from historically marginalized communities into college and the lasting impact of a post-high school education.
0:01:29.8 Steven Rose: Filling out a Financial Aid form is one of the worst experiences that I think any human being could possibly go through. Somebody somewhere in life has to take an interest in that child and say, yeah, I'm gonna help you get there.
0:01:42.5 EA: But before we get there. Let's begin with Captain Jamel Jones, currently a company commander in the United States Army 75th Ranger Regiment. Jamel welcome and thanks for joining us. So we have a little context. Tell us a little bit about your upbringing.
0:02:01.1 CJ: In terms of my upbringing, very dynamic upbringing in an under-represented community, people look at Benton, Arkansas they don't see the small, predominantly minority community within Benton. Benton is a suburb of Little Rock. So it looks more like a retirement town, but within it houses what we call the hill or the Ralph Bunche community, and in that community where a lot of your minority, particularly African-American population lives, and it's what you would think of any kind of hood environment, it's an environment that was cycled with drugs and addictions, very low-income area, very impoverished area, the houses in any other part of town would be bulldozed and condemned, but they were livable by those standards where I grew up. Early on, I was a very much a product of the culture of my family and a product of my environment in terms of Here's what my schemas and my outlook was shaped to be, and that was to be somebody who was able to make a quick dollar to look at certain parts of society and try to idealize that I should be a certain person in society, but really was a negative person in society, and that was really the drug dealer, the person who was making a quick dollar, had the shiny flashy cars, clothes because we all wanted something, and I think that rings true for a lot of communities and our country.
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0:03:25.6 EA: So what else do you remember about growing up in Benton?
0:03:30.3 CJ: The Ralph Bunche community? It was bad, but there were elements that were good. There was a church on every corner, it's still the case, there's probably not 300 people in that community, but there's a church on every street corner nearly. There's churches, but there's not a whole lot of hope, and so for me, that was a concern, I'm like, I'm acquainting these things and say, There's a lot of places of hope, but there's not a lot of hope instilled in people. So community was bad in that right, community was good in that there were people who would pour into you as much as they could, whether they were living right or not to make sure that you weren't like them. I saw very early the racial divides from that community to Benton writ large, and so there was always tension. So that was also bad because when I would leave that community I would experience some of the bias that would be on the other side of the tracks and I would say here that I'm very thankful that that did not drive the way that I thought as I grew up, it wasn't a lens that I viewed life through being either racist or bias or whatever, but it very well could have been me.
0:04:29.2 CJ: When you look at these different dynamics that are part of my story, education was not one of those, a lot of support and understanding entrenched in the community is really not a part of that. Struggle is very much a part of that. Surviving was a part of that. Early on, didn't really have a desire to do certain things, and I think it's because as I was growing up, I saw every day, how not to live.
0:04:55.6 EA: Wow, that's very powerful, phrased that way. Jamel, you keep saying early on, how early are we talking here? How old were you when you began to realize that the world around you didn't have to be this way?
0:05:10.7 CJ: I realized, probably first grade that my life was very different, home life was very different, and people started to notice, teachers would notice, the school administrators would notice, and because of the attention that was applied to our lives, it made me know that, hey, something is going wrong. This attention isn't applied to other students, and we're trying to make sure you're okay, which let me know, Hey, something that's happening in my life is not okay, and so they are invested in it, which I'm very thankful for. I know some people could take offense to that and things like that, but I'm very, very thankful that there were teachers and people in my life who noticed when something was wrong and didn't necessarily perpetuate it. Where they could and where it was appropriate, would step in and be of some sort of assistance. I just remember the house that we lived in, the ceiling was falling in on the inside. The walls, you could walk from the room to the bathroom, just walking through the wall, you didn't have to exit the door because the sheetrock was gone. I remember using the decorative candles that were hanging on the wall here and there for lighting because the utilities were out, when your utilities are off, your food in your refrigerator's gonna spoil, fact.
0:06:21.2 CJ: Well, we had pests, so we had ants, roaches, whatever. I remember taking chicken that had ants in it, cleaning it all out and then putting it in the oven, 'cause the oven was gas, the gas was still on, just the lights weren't, right? Lighting the pilot light on the oven with a candle and then
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lighting the oven and then putting this chicken in the oven. Throw some seasoning on it and cook it so that we could have food to eat. And that sounds like a third world country to me, having visited a few of them. And so it's a very foreign concept growing up and different things that have, again, shaped my worldview. Second grade crazily was when I started to grab reins as a kid could in any sort of way.
0:07:02.5 EA: Grab the reins. I love that. So tell me about the Boys & Girls Club. When we met earlier, you told me a lot about that. How they were there for you and for your brother.
0:07:14.0 CJ: So we started going to the club very early, well before we should have been, it was not legal. And there were times when they're like, "Hey, we're gonna send you guys home 'cause you're not supposed to be here." I don't even know what the risk level was on the director end of just having these kids here who are not on the books. I need to go hug some of these people. But back then, the director was Cindy Doramus, Jason Kelly, he was there. Heath Massey, he was there early. He did all the sports, JK was more of like sports and administration. I could go on for all the folks over there. But I started to learn these people's personalities in a way that they were motivating to me, but also they were chasing us, like correct us in different ways that we needed it. So if you run around the club, you get sit on the bench, you can't run on the black and white tiles, if you're caught running, a staff member say, "Hey, you got 10 minutes on the bench and you gotta sit down." Like, "Augh." So people come around there and they see you sitting down, you're in trouble, and they're like, "Oh, what do you do?" Can't talk, you're in time out. That to me was like, accountability. "Hey, you will be held accountable for your actions."
0:08:19.8 CJ: I found my love for basketball there, I really learned to cultivate relationships at the Boys & Girls Club, with just different people. Again, the hope, as long as you can give hope to somebody. The club, it was a hope-filled place. You could go there, you could be annoyed with your friends, but at least you're at the club and you're not doing something crazy in the community.
0:08:41.0 EA: But it sounds like it was so much more than sports for you.
0:08:45.3 CJ: I could give my last dollar to the club and still not be enough for what they've given me. They had this thing at the Boys Club, as I got older, it's called The Future. And I'm saying this now 'cause I've not said it to anybody, but if I ever get a chance to go be the CEO of the Boys & Girls Club in Benton, that's a dream job of mine. And I would bring this back. They created a group what's called The Future. And I don't know if they knew how dynamic that was, it was awesome. It was a lot of the teens and pre-teens, and they got us a shirt and on the back of it had the hands of the Boys & Girls Club. And then it had The Future on the front of it. And for me, I was like, "Man, yeah, we are the future." And I'm telling you, they don't know the impact that that had on a lot of people. Me in particular, I really, really believed that I was the future because they put that shirt on me. That started to create autonomy as a leader early of my ability to think, think about other people, have empathy, try to communicate if you don't call the right play or make the right move that impacts other people, so what you do in your life matters, 'cause it can impact other people. All this stuff started resonating with me in different ways. Some people say, "Oh, it's just basketball," but man, basketball was a saving grace for me.
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0:09:51.7 EA: You've had quite a few guardian angels in your life. What about your friends?
0:09:58.1 CJ: Getting into high school, we attended First Baptist Church of Benton, where we were part of the youth group, and there was a lot of guys that I went to school with, played sports with that were in the youth group, and it was cool to run with those guys. So I started to latch myself on to people and their families who were doing positive things, and it really started to help me think about like, "Hey, all these things you've experienced have been one thing, but where are you going with it?" And all these guys and girls were moving to college, their families are going... Attended schools, it was very cultural. "Hey, you're going into the U of A, 'cause we went to the U of A. You don't have a dog in that fight. You're going." So it was an expectation from 12th grade to freshman year in college, it was just a 13th grade, you're going to the next level. And honestly, I started to think like that.
0:10:40.8 EA: When did you tell your family that you wanted to go to college?
0:10:45.1 CJ: So my grandmother, who was a huge part of my life, passed away the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school. It really impacted me, and it continues to drive me. Her passing was heavy for my twin brother and I, because we lived with her. I didn't sag my pants, because she was old-school, it wasn't something that she was good with. And so there was a lot of impact there. She had expectations, she called us Mel and Mal, instead of Jamel and Jamal. Easier to just say the last syllable, right? [chuckle] She would just say, "Mel, you can do whatever you wanna do. You're different." She would say those little things, and I believed it. But early I was communicating like I wanted to take on the world, man. It started before ninth grade, but I think intentionally communicating that at a junior high, high school level. It started to become part of the expectation.
0:11:31.3 EA: So, in terms of high school, what were you focused on?
0:11:34.2 CJ: We get into high school, I wanted to be an honor graduate. My mom is there at a parent-teacher conference, shaping the schedule. And the counselor is like, "What do you wanna do?" And I'm like, "Well, I wanna be an undergraduate, take these classes." And my mom was like, "What?" And she's like, "You can do that?" And I was like, "Yeah." I told the counselor, I think this was Ms. Gattis, I said, "If you just let me in the classroom, I can pass the class, I just need to get in it." And she was like, "Okay." What's there to lose, right? You have to put the guy in a different class. So she then looked at my mom, was like, "Yeah, he gets in there, I'm pretty positive he can do it." So I started taking Honors English And Honors Biology and took the hardest teacher in the school, Mr. Hillman. And everybody knew of him before you even got to the high school, he had been a college biology professor or something. And he was just very rigid and stern guy and had this academic arrogance, is what I should call it. He was very scholarly, and you weren't gonna come in his class half-stepping, and you weren't gonna come in his class and just make it. I'm the only black kid in there, I'm kinda nervous, "Man, why they give me him, they coulda give me anybody." But I got him.
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0:12:36.4 CJ: And it was one of the best experiences I had academically. I told him, I said, "I'm gonna kiss the floor when I leave your class, I just want you to know that," and I literally did that. I got down and kissed the floor on the last day. And I was running with these kids who were super smart, "Are you gonna take this teacher? Are you gonna be a part of this class? Are you gonna do these things?" And so I was there in the classroom with these kids who were just doing well and they were bringing me along really. So the decision to go to college was like, again, it was an expectation by the time I got to high school and got in these courses, 'cause everybody had been speaking it into me, I believed that I could do it, I felt like I was working hard enough to go to college and do well. I felt like Benton was a very good preparation phase for college, and the teachers would say, "Hey, our students go on and do this." They would give you some statistics. And I was like, "Okay, I can do it too." Cool, if I'm in honors classes, I can go to college and be good as a freshman, at least. It got to a point where I started investing in myself in high school to be good in college.
0:13:30.5 EA: I still imagine that there was little expectation of financial help from anyone you were related to. What was their response about your desire to go and how did you go about getting there?
0:13:43.1 CJ: Financially there was not a dollar, we sometimes couldn't bring $5 between five people in my house. [chuckle] I mean, that's digging through the couches too, it was tight. I didn't know how I was gonna get to college, I just knew I was going. I just didn't know how to get from point A to point B. I was getting recruited to go play basketball at a few different places. And Lita Gattis was our counselor in the high school. And I didn't know about NCAA Clearinghouse to go to college and play sports. I just knew I wanted to go play sports. I'd gone to try out for Arkansas Tech before I graduated high school, and they said, "Hey, you're a good fit," and all this stuff, and I was like, "All right, sweet. This vision is becoming clear." But Miss Gattis pulled me aside one evening, I was choreographing school plays. So I could play basketball and I could also dance. So they were doing "High School Musical" then, and so they brought me in to help them out. So it was late evening at school, she's like "Hey, have you done your NCAA Clearinghouse?" And I was like, "I don't even know what that means." She said, "You know, you can't go play college sports until you do it." I was like, "Well, what do I need to do?" And she brought me in her office, she sat me down, I did not leave that evening until it was done.
0:14:42.5 CJ: And so those are the things that I'm talking about where people are like, "Hey, did you do this? You're not leaving until we do it." Somebody was setting conditions for me to go do something that I really, really wanted to do and that they wanted me to do. So I ended up going to Tech, walked on there, play a little bit of basketball, and from there, I just kinda had the college life.
0:15:01.0 EA: And so looking back, it seems like your success in college and beyond, it's all directly linked to these stories from the Boys & Girls Club.
0:15:11.3 CJ: There's more stories than I can count about the Boys & Girls Club with the things that we were able to be a part of. But I just remember the people. I remember them caring, I remember them making time, I remember them giving just effort to our situations and taking a
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second and telling my mom like, "Hey, your kids did great today." Shelby Sasfai was there teaching kids like learning center type realms, just shaping brains. Shelby, unsung hero of my life, still very much a part of my life. But Shelby has been, Oh man, again, not enough words for her. She was a mom, a friend, a safe place, a refuge. Everything that I've needed, she has absolutely been and more. I talked to her not too long ago. And one of the things that she told me was, she said, "Jamel, you know one of the things that I just think about you and a couple other folks that I've had the privilege of being a part of your life is, we say children are like arrows and you fire them off and where they land they're gonna do wonders." And she was like, "You just haven't landed yet, and whenever you do... And I was like, "You know, I'm a 33-year-old man. I got my own family." And I'm like, "You still bring me to tears with some of the things that you say to me and how much you love me still." It's just amazing.
0:16:22.5 EA: Nice. That is such a cool way to think about things. So how straight did that arrow fly through school? How did things go academically?
0:16:31.7 CJ: I didn't graduate with honors, I was like a half a point away from it or something, which I still kick myself in the butt. But I was like, Hey, if that got me to, I think it was like a 3.0 or a 3.5 or something to get like a cum laude. I think I was like a 3.4 or something, I don't know, I can't remember. But I knew I was going to college and Shelby sat us down, we did our FAFSA at our house on her desktop computer. She walked us through it. And I think she was actually at work and they called us and say, "Hey, what do I put right here." She was like, "Well, what does it say? Well, it says this, I was like, what does that even mean? She said, "Well, put this number in there and click next." She was just unsung.
0:17:03.5 EA: Well, I'd like to sing about her, but I'm going to spare you that. What else did you have to do to get in? And did you even know where you wanted to go?
0:17:14.3 CJ: Your senior year, where there was a board in the hallway where all the seniors write down what school they were attending. And so people were getting acceptance letters. I remember taking the ACT. I was like, "I gotta take the ACT." Man, I'm nervous as all get out because I don't do well at standardized tests. My whole life, I hadn't been good at them. I gotta take the ACT and that's what's gonna get me into college. And so I got friends who are like 29, 28, 30. I'm like, "Man, they're killing this thing." I'm like, "Okay, well, I'm kinda like them so I'll do it." Took it the first time and just I don't even think it registered. [chuckle] So it's like, "Okay, I gotta actually need to do some prep for this thing." I think I end up getting like a 19 or a 21, it was just barely over the minimum of whatever it was. I was like, okay, I can get in college, but also not be like on a probationary period too. And I realized like, hey, I can go to Tech. And I wrote on that board, 'cause basketball was kinda leading me there, wrote on that board by the guidance counselor's office, Jamel Jones, Arkansas Tech University. And then my brother, Jamal, Jamal Jones, Arkansas Tech University. And we were going to Tech. And, man, did that feel good.
0:18:18.9 CJ: But that transition was very, very awesome. And it's like your mental skies open up. Before you graduate you get to go back to your elementary school and spend probably half the day there. And then I just remember I got there and I was like this is where I can start to pour into
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people. And I remember going back and seeing my teachers and, man, a teacher makes you just feel loved beyond anything. Like you have their thumb prints all over you 'cause they spent time, effort and energy on you. And you come back and they see that you're graduating and that's filling their love tank as well, right? I just remember being able to go back and sit with some kids and my teacher's like, "Hey, I know I wanna talk to you, but I got this kid you need to sit down and talk to." I'm like, "Okay, cool." "Pull him out of class, sit him in the cafeteria and just talk to him, hey, he drew this on this paper, and I'm really disturbed by it. Talk to them and see what you can get out of him." "Cool, I'll go do that."
0:19:04.9 CJ: And that was what that day was filled with for me. Some people were just kinda sitting around visiting with the office. I was working. And I was trying to help people, young kids, listen to teachers, teachers listen to young kids, understand what the kid is saying because they don't speak the same language. Just all kinds of stuff. But an example was like, "Hey, I gotta use it." "Use what?" Where I'm from that means you gotta use the bathroom. We're they're from it's saying, "Yeah, I gotta go to potty, I need to pee, I need to poop. Whatever it is, I gotta use it." And you're crying and saying, "Gotta use it." "Use what?" Just cultural communication barriers trying to help people understand one another. I was busy that day and it was great. Best thing I've ever done, I think.
0:19:44.5 EA: So what were your goals for college, did you know what you wanted to study going in?
0:19:49.8 CJ: So when I got to school, I thought I wanted to be a physical therapist. I wanted to just be a part of sports, something dealing with athletes, so I was a pre-physical therapy major starting out, and to do that, you have to take a lot of science classes, so I was taking Principles of Biology and Botany and Zoology, and I was doing fine, I actually was really liking and then I couldn't really connect the science to the physical therapy of helping a person get back in the game. Obviously that's a foundation of it, but I just couldn't connect it. So I ended up changing my major to History and Political Science with the emphasis in Pre-Law, and again, being a lawyer was a nice title, kid like me coming from the hood, like hey man, go be a lawyer but I wanted to be something that people could resonate with. I also wanted to speak for people who couldn't speak for themselves, and I still have that as a burning desire in me. I really wanted to be an attorney. I'm like I'm gonna go with full head of steam on this, I became the President of the Pre-Law Society on campus, I got involved in student politics on campus, now I'm not playing basketball so I have a lot of time where I'm getting plugged in a lot of things, I'm on the debate team now, so I'm really trying to get my feet wet into law and potentially politics.
0:20:55.0 EA: Wait, so what happened with basketball? Was it just too much time? What made you stop playing?
0:21:00.4 CJ: Well one, the scholarship money weren't coming, and then it was just taking up time that I was like I could go get a job and make some money. And it was more about business, and I realized I wasn't going to the NBA, [chuckle] so I think it was junior year, we had both joined ROTC, we enlisted in the Army together, we were at the same National Guard unit, and we are
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crushing a lot of this stuff, we've set records on physical events, obstacle courses and we're like man, whatever we do, so long as we're together, it's gonna happen.
0:21:27.4 EA: What inspired you to join the ROTC?
0:21:30.1 CJ: [chuckle] My brother was like, "Hey, you wanna join the Army?" And I was like, "Yeah, I mean, why not?" [chuckle]
0:21:35.4 EA: Literally?
0:21:35.7 CJ: Literally was the conversation and I was like, "What do we get out of it?" We knew my mom would be like, "Oh, absolutely not." We didn't even swim growing up, you're definitely gonna go get a gun and a helmet? Like, "No, you're not doing that. It's too risky." My brother was like, "Go, let's do it," I was like, "Alright." And honestly that was his dream, he wanted to really do that, I was like, "Ah well, let's just go do it, do it together." Early on though like seventh grade, the Twin Towers fell, I just remember that Long Road Home, Neely Street, I as a seventh grade middle school aged student was like I wonder what the ultimate display of citizenship is, and how do you become a good citizen in these moments? Do you help people? 'Cause the country was very connected and unified, and I was like how do you do it? What is it that we do to come together in moments like this? How do you comfort people? I was remembering my teacher grabbing us all, hugging us, Ms. Hughes, fast forward, that was the itch that I got to serve my country, and I felt like the ultimate display of citizenship to one's country for me was service during a war time environment. Put it on the line if this is what you care about, and once I started getting my feet wet in the subculture of the Army and where we were in the country and more, I knew I didn't wanna be anywhere else than on the ground as a platoon leader in Afghanistan with an infantry platoon.
0:22:47.1 EA: That's so commendable. Jamel, thank you for sharing your moment of epiphany as well, I think I speak for all of us in expressing our appreciation. In hindsight, do you feel like this is what you saw yourself doing with your life in some way?
0:23:06.8 CJ: Uniquely for me, my wife and I talk about it often is I thought early on, I was gonna go be a corporate attorney for Walmart, I'd done an internship there, really enjoyed the culture in Northwest Arkansas, been on executive row, and I was like I'm gonna just come back here, be an attorney, why not? This is a very good thing. Oddly, I mentioned that my brother's dream was the Army, mine was kinda Walmart, like let me go work for Walmart. It switched, I end up being in the Army and I'm killing it and then he goes to work for Walmart in the distribution centers and stuff, and it never dawned on me till my mom said, "You know y'all are living each other's dream, right?" And I was like, "What?" She said, "Yeah, you wanted to go work for Walmart, he's working for Walmart. He wanted to be in Army, you're in the Army. What are y'all doing?" [chuckle] I was like, "Oh man, I didn't think about that." So, very interesting turn of events there. After we learn the financial aspect of student loan repayment, tuition assistance to pay for college, getting a skill or something that could be transferred into civilian sector, all that was very promising for me and I was like, "Okay, I'll use the Army as a stepping stone to get somewhere in life and enjoy it for a little bit and get out and keep going on with the rest of my life." Here, I'm still in the Army.
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0:24:10.6 EA: What is the one thing that you've learned most about yourself or that life has taught you throughout this entire journey?
0:24:17.9 CJ: I realize that flesh is fragile and your time here is quick and so really impacted me in a way of, one, learning how to be fearful but lead, accepting the fact that you're gonna die but leading through that so that your people can be motivated, you have to accept certain things could or probably will happen to you so that you can stop being scared about it, to lead people through adversity, and that is a lot of what has shaped me in these post-college years of being able to lead and impact people and their families in a way that I never thought I'd be able to, and that it's because of some of these exposures.
0:24:50.1 EA: What do you mean?
0:24:50.8 CJ: As I've gone and as I've led people in organizations, I'm on this process of becoming who I feel God wants me to be and I believe Shelby, that the arrow has not landed yet, and I feel like that. It does bring a lot of emotion in me because to whom much is given, much is required or expected. And I can't tell you there's been some saving grace moments in my life growing up where I should not be here, I know that. Statistically, I should not be here, and I've made every stride to be very grateful and thankful and make the most of opportunities that I've been given and whatever my hands find to do, just do with all my might, and as long as I'm reaching as I climb, bringing people along with me and investing in the next generation, investing in my own home, my own house, I'm the first successfully married person in my family. And so to do that right means everything to me. I don't wanna mess that up. I have so much to lose. Life has been awesome for me because I've been able to see and do things that I never thought I'd be able to do. Even competing for Ivy League educational opportunities, where as I'm like I'm Jamel Jones from the Hill, given all of the exposures that I've had, all the experiences that I've had and all the opportunities that people have given me over the years, it's not for me to keep, it's not for me to hold on to and it's to keep hands open and not tightly closed fist.
0:26:06.2 CJ: And so we are givers in my family, we love people when they least deserve it 'cause that's when they really need it, and we are all about community. And so wherever we go, we wanna create an environment in a community for people to thrive and their families, and we look to leave things better than what we found them, and those things are things and people, and so that just goes
to show you what my investment in life is. I'm gonna pour out of me what's been poured into me, 'cause there's somebody else who deserves the same chances and opportunities that I've been so fortunate to have had over my 33 years of life, and if I can only help people for the rest of my life, that's all I feel like I wanna do for the rest of my life.
0:26:42.3 EA: Keep going. Thank you, Jamel, for your incredible story. Next, meet Steven Rose, 04/08/22 Page 10 of 15
President of Passaic County Community College in Paterson, New Jersey. He's been at the school for over 35 years, first in the Admissions Department and for the last 25 years, president of the college.
0:27:04.6 SR: We're a minority serving institution, 80% of our students are students of color. And we're located in Paterson, New Jersey, which is the third largest city in New Jersey. So that's our student body here. Most are first generation in their family to go to college, and many are the first generation in their family to graduate from high school, which is even a much bigger differentiation. They're not students who typically grew up saying in second grade, "Oh, I'm going to college," or even when they're in 12th grade thinking that they're definitely going to college. You know, didn't grow up in families which went to college. Most don't even understand that college is something which is available to them. They don't understand the financial aid world. They don't understand all of these types of things which pretty much anybody can go to college these days. But students don't understand that.
0:27:54.8 EA: No, they don't. And why do you think they don't know that?
0:27:58.0 SR: College is expensive. They hear about student debt. They hear about these things where students are going into debt, and they say, "Hey, that's not something I'm willing to do. I can't take a loan." Filling out a financial aid form is one of the worst experiences that I think any human being could possibly go through. I mean, there's nothing intuitive about it. It's much harder than filing your taxes. And here's where they screw up, how many dependents do you have? They don't know what the dependent is. They don't know who is their dependent, so they get it wrong. They put, "Oh, I have three dependents because I have a dog and a cat." They don't understand this kind of stuff. For most students, community college is already free.
0:28:39.1 EA: Wait, what? College is already free?
0:28:41.6 SR: In New Jersey now, we have a program which we call Community College Opportunity Grants. Anyone whose family income is under $65,000 a year can go to community college for free.
0:28:50.9 EA: Wow! I think most of us listening would say they had no idea. Why don't we hear about this?
0:28:58.2 SR: We can now go into high schools and go into middle schools and say, "You can go to college," because we know what the average family income is there. And we can say, "You don't worry about the cost, you can go to college." But we're just talking about Pell Grants and FAFSAs, it's too complicated. They don't understand that. So the number of barriers that are standing in their way of getting through the gauntlet of trying to get financial aid, it's tough.
0:29:24.7 EA: You were talking about high school, middle school, when should we begin to acclimate our kids towards college?
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0:29:32.0 SR: Getting them into the building when they're in elementary school, demystifies what a college is. It can't be something they were afraid of. It's gotta be something that, "Hey, this place looks cool. This is a place I wanna go." We try all kinds of things: Theater events; we do a robotics competition here where we have all the local high schools participate in the robotics competition. They get to walk around campus and they see other students who look like them on the campus.
0:29:57.8 EA: So cool.
0:29:58.5 SR: Then all of a sudden, "Hey, I can fit in there." When you heard Jamel talk about all the stories that he told and everything, the role of people in his life, and it wasn't his family, but people in the Boys & Girls Club and teachers who somewhere along the way took an interest in him. And all you need is somebody taking an interest in a student saying, "Yeah, you could go to college. Here's how it's gonna happen. I'll help you fill out the FAFSA. And don't worry about it, it's not that complicated. I'll help you navigate the system." That's what it's about.
0:30:27.0 EA: Looking back to Jamel's story, would you say that it's typical of your students?
0:30:32.0 SR: Probably not typical, because most students aren't that driven. He's got his act together. It seems like he had his act together in a pretty young age. He's one of the lucky ones, between the determination and having the right folks around that made it happen. Not everybody has that determination and not everybody has the right folks around them. Without the determination, you need somebody who's gonna advocate for you and somebody who's really gonna push the agenda for you. And those people can come from all different walks of life. You heard it, the Boys & Girls Club, those are the kind of places that do it, Little League, it's a coach, it's the girl scouts, it's these kind of people, it could be a teacher, it could be a guidance counselor, it could be an uncle, it could be an aunt, it could be a parent. So somebody, somewhere in life has to take an interest in that child and say, "Yeah, I'm gonna help you get there." And it's the ones who are sitting in the corner who somebody's gotta go up to them.
0:31:23.4 EA: There are plenty of legitimate arguments against a traditional college education today. But Steve, what are the best arguments for one?
0:31:32.7 SR: I'm not even gonna say that it's necessarily go to college because college isn't for everybody, but apprenticeships, whether it's becoming part of the union and going through an apprenticeship program or doing something post high school, you need to do something. A high school diploma itself is not going to get you where you need to be. Education is the easiest way to improve social mobility. You always hear somebody who may be big in cryptocurrency or somebody who made it big as an entrepreneur and did it without ever going to college, yeah, you hear those stories and they do happen, but that's not mainstream. The typical student who graduates from a community college will make over $400,000 more in their career than somebody who just graduates from high school. Making an extra $400,000 in your career is the difference between owning a home. It's a difference between having a reliable car. It's the path to the middle class that education gives you. That's basically available to anybody today, but you just gotta want it and you gotta have some people who are gonna help you get there.
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0:32:36.3 EA: Yeah, that's great. But to talk brass tacks for a second, can you give us an example of what someone like Jamel can expect from what is basically a free community college education?
0:32:49.9 SR: Most of the students graduating from my nursing program are students of color who come from minority backgrounds, who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, but they're smart and they're willing to work hard. Right now, our nurses are making $100,000 a year when they're graduating from here after two years. They're registered nurses. Basically nursing now is you work three days a week, three 12-hour shifts. That's a full-time job in nursing. I've got some students who are graduating who are 24, 25-years-old, they're young, they're healthy, they're working two jobs. They're working six days a week, working six 12-hour shifts a week, which is a lot, but basically, they're making over $200,000 a year. You do that for a couple of years, you've made your life. These are people who never had money in their lives, and all of a sudden they're changing everything. They're able to buy a house. They're able to buy a new car. They're able to raise a family. They're able to do all these things, and they're not gonna be struggling all the time.
0:33:43.2 EA: Yeah. Jamel had this beautiful metaphor about being an arrow that hasn't landed yet. Can you relate to that idea?
0:33:53.5 SR: Well, sure, and it's all about direction, and it's all about what path we're going to take. We've reorganized, most community colleges in the country have reorganized ourselves, something we're calling guided pathways. So instead of choosing a major when you come in, we have like six pathways that you can join. So one would be the simple one, Allied Health. People wanna become a nurse, they know what a nurse is, but they don't always understand what a respiratory therapist is or the radiographer is. Well, one of the things we're able to do with these students is when we get them in a pathway, we make sure they understand all the various options that they have. Nursing is not the only way to go. Now, there's public health. There's phlebotomist. There's this, there's that. There's lots of ways to go. So we're trying to get them in a pathway and then help them through that pathway, give them a direction, and then we make sure that the first course is in their first semester, whether you're gonna become a nurse, or respiratory therapist, or radiographer, are all the same courses. So you don't have to make up your mind when you're in high school, what you wanna be when you grow up.
0:34:57.5 SR: If you wanna go into business, we have a business pathway. And then you can choose within that business pathway, do I wanna become an accountant, do I wanna go into marketing, do I wanna go into finance? But they don't even know the difference between finance and marketing and accounting when they're 17 or 18-years-old. So part of it is, we're trying to keep that arrow going in a direction and keep them focused. And it seems to be working. It's helping.
0:35:23.6 EA: Thank you so much for joining us on this episode of Love Takes Action. If you like what you hear, we invite you to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform, add your comments, and share with your friends and family. It's a chance to celebrate the voices of our inspiring guests and their wonderful stories. You can also follow us on Twitter, Instagram, or visit our website at newyorklife.com.
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