Stay Awake but Never Stop Dreaming

Kareem Martin photo man in dream world

Last year I had an epiphany. And coming from a lower working-class single black mother household, those are pretty hard to come by. It was a deeply humid Saturday morning smack dab middle of June when I heard something of a racket downstairs in my family home. This wasn’t the pleasant, rhythmic noise of pots and pans I’d usually hear the day before Thanksgiving, where my mother would ready her dishes. This sound was of desperation and panic. My mother, who remained a collected person up until this point, was acting erratic the night before. Delirious, vague and intensely sad. She’d emptied the closet near the front door and claimed she was spring cleaning in the summer. In the noisy morning, she faced my two sisters and I with tears in her eyes and said, “I failed you. I tried so hard but I failed all of you.” Confused and admittedly still half-asleep, I was extremely perplexed. My mind raced to probable causes of this behavior. Was it cancer? Did someone harm her? Did she lose her job?

My mother confessed that due to the death of my grandmother (her mother) in 2014, who was helping her pay the house mortgage, she’d lost the house to a bank in a foreclosure. Like trickling sand on your hands in a summer breeze. This was common, but a shock. The thing that was gut-punching was that my mother had kept this from us for nearly a year and had recently received a notice to vacate the premises. Her eyes were worn and swollen with thick black lines and her skin was a muted mahogany complexion. She looked like the “before” picture of a clinically depressed anxiety position. The months that followed were emotional arguments, and limited plans with dwindling opportunities. I gathered boxes and worked a part-time job while my mother and sisters packed for our eventual move. My main concern was my last semester. Would I finish like I’d already planned? Would my grades suffer? Where would I live? That was my 2018.

Through my own research and self-awareness, I’ve gathered that I’m not alone in this journey to gain a college degree. I recall hearing of one student-mother who is homeless and remains diligent in her studies. Having an unclear future seems to be the source of rampant anxiety within my generation and younger. The notion of uncertainty is something that plagues millions of young people in the midst of “emerging adulthood” or what many sociologists describe as the period of uncertainty in young people’s lives. Millennials, Generation Y or the iGeneration face a number of economic obstacles that previous generations rarely had to. Millennials are getting married later, having children later, refraining from buying a home or car, and are bombarded by student debt and a shortage of entry-level jobs. On the flip side, we are the highest educated and most ethnically diverse youth body in the history of this country. We want to make an impact but we can’t. We don’t come without flaws as well. Millennials have been described as overprotected by parents, lazy, and entitled beyond reason. These demonizing elements, of course, come from a stem or a source of bias.

Another aspect of the FSC life that I find interesting is the notion of intersectionality, when it comes to family economic background. The majority of the students at FSC come from humble, if not comfortable, suburban white middle-class means. But what of students with LGBTQ backgrounds? Or African-American students? Other minorities? What are the stories behind their eyes? I fundamentally believe that we all have challenges and obstacles on our journey that are relative to ourselves as individuals. Never in my life as a young black man in America do I want to participate in the “suffering Olympics,” arguing who has had the most problems in this country. I’m never asking for an apology for anyone higher in class and status than I am. But I’d be remiss in not mentioning the ease in economic security that some students have more than others.

As we approach the smack-dab middle of my last semester, I think back to how hard that news was to hear. It hurt me to see one of my heroes so trampled by her reality. My mother and family are safe at my aunt’s home in Westbury. We’re looking for places to live. I’ve had trouble adjusting to the semester’s responsibilities and a part-time job. But I persevere because of the students and faculty I’ve talked to, and the experiences I’ve absorbed. I had a rare epiphany that informing yourself with the realities of our time, with the intricacies of our intersectionality, with the difficulties facing our generation and the generation after us, will help us to better prepare for that uncertainty. But as we use knowledge to protect us, let’s not forget about what’s at the heart of knowledge. Curiosity. Talk to a friend. Talk to a stranger on campus. Visit the Health and Wellness Center. Take a trip to the Mental Health Center. Exercise. Do something you love. You’re not alone. Remain aware. Be prepared. But don’t ever dare to not dream.

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