#FeesMustFall – on the importance of diasporic solidarity

When #MikeBrown was murdered in Ferguson by a white pig by the name of Darren Wilson, I was studying abroad at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

The news broke and I didn’t what to do with myself. I considered organizing with fellow students because I felt so alone, so hopeless. But even though the students around me weren’t discussing it, if I had gone to twitter I would have seen over a million tweets from all over the world, including South Africa. But there was little to no international footage on the few channels I got in my apartment.

I was a Black American living in a country with some of the worst white people you will meet, attending a prestigious, historically white university, and I just wanted to march in the streets with my friends and family. What was going on in Ferguson was disgusting. And then seeing the photos of how the police brutalized folks in Berkeley and Oakland broke my heart in a very personal way. I knew that being out there meant potential arrest, teargas, and fractured bones in this Black body of mine. I knew that even if I was home in Oakland, I might not have marched for fear that my mom might get a call in the middle of the night saying that something had happened to her son. But even if I didn’t march, I just wanted to be home. So I was there. In Cape Town. Isolated. I had a twitter account but I wasn’t active during that time and even my Black American friends at the university weren’t talking much about Ferguson. I had this burning desire to be back in the country where my blackness was so reviled just so I could be with my people. All the while living in a country where my blackness was equally reviled, but at least I was surrounded by people who looked like me.

Needless to say, I needed to talk. But I also knew that talking wouldn’t bring Mike Brown or anyone else back. Even the notion of organizing a march or protest in South Africa felt useless.

Looking back, I don’t know if I would have done anything different now, except for go onto Twitter. It took days for Ferguson to truly reach the news and even Facebook, but twitter covered it as it happened.

What I do know, though, is that I’m happy to stand with the #NationalShutdown, to stand with #FeesMustFall, to stand with #EndOutsourcing. Not just because I felt so alone during Ferguson—felt is key here, as I definitely wasn’t alone, I just didn’t know the proper channels at the time—, but because white South Africa has deprived Black South Africans of food, shelter, and education for too long. The ANC devolved from a revolutionary organization to a money-hungry political party that has aided in the deprivation of Black South Africa. All Black lives matter, not just those who have been murdered, not just those in Western countries, and definitely not just those with the rand or dollars who can afford a formal education.

Education is a right, not a privilege.

Educational opportunities should not be decided by the color line.

Educational opportunities should be be decided by class.

Educational opportunities and white surpemacy should be go hand in hand.

If white South Africa truly wants transformation (spoiler alert: they don’t), then they need to listen to the voices of those who have been historically marginalized: Poor. Black. People. Poor. Colored. People. Poor Indian people. Poor immigrants. Does the white devil and the Black ruling party think xenophobia sprung up out of nowhere? No, it’s the result of capitalistic white supremacy that the ANC once fought against.

Europeans created artificial borders, competition for low-paying jobs, and conditions that drive people out of their homes into a new unwelcoming country due to globalization and capitalism. Why do Black folks themselves now uphold and extend these systems?

I write all this to say that the women leading #FeesMustFall are right: we must strive for free education for all. A 6% cap in fees is not enough of a “compromise.” To create a more equitable South Africa, a South Africa that adheres more closely to the Freedom Charter, access to quality educational opportunities is one of the best ways paths.

Moving from personal to political–although these are intertwined–I’d like to speak to those on the ground. To those who are at home for fear of deportation, out in the streets fending off rubber bullets and tear gas, and to the mothers who worry about their children: thank you for everything you are doing. Even if these are just words I type that only one person sees, I’ve helped somebody. I’ve made somebody feel less alone. During Ferguson I clung to the articles I read, the Facebook posts that brought tears to my eyes, the firsthand accounts of my friends. If their words helped me–and I say this with the utmost spirit of service and humbleness–I hope my words can help you. Thank you, South Africa, for your support of Black America. I hope we can help you further.

Amandla!

#AntinAfrica – Belated Introduction

Exploring San Francisco before leaving to Cape Town, South Africa, July 2014.
Exploring San Francisco before leaving to Cape Town, South Africa, July 2014.

DISCLAIMER: I wrote this post about a month ago and never published it, but I’ve since added a few recent details.

“So, why South Africa?”

This question comes up in almost every introductory conversation from the cashier at Woolworth’s to my fellow [North] American and international students.

I knew I wanted to study abroad at some point in my undergraduate career. I stepped down from my full-time job in 2013 to begin my junior year at University of California, Berkeley at the age of 24. And just recently I celebrated my 25th birthday. By no means am I much older than the majority of students in their junior year, but I had specific goals when entering Cal. One of the benefits of taking the long road to university was my coworkers, who encouraged me to study abroad and take advantage of the opportunities that are available, despite my limited time as a transfer student.

I walked the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time before leaving for South Africa, July 2014.
I walked the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time before leaving for South Africa, July 2014.

The first step towards studying abroad was deciding my country of choice, which was a daunting task. With at least 35 locations in the UC Education Abroad Program (UCEAP), I had to set some guidelines. I knew I only wanted to study for a semester, and I picked the Fall of 2014 as the goal. This narrowed it down a bit, but not enough. Then for countries I decided early on that I only wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking country, an African country, or Brazil. I took two years of Spanish in high school and an immersion program sounded exciting. But after reviewing the programs they did not seem like a great fit in terms of classes I was interested in. I think a large part of me was terrified of venturing into the unknown with my rusty and frankly, lackluster Spanish skills. Brazil took it a step further, with limited English options. I do not consider myself a linguist, and the thought of trying to learn my subject and Portugeuse at the same time was a bit intimidating. Finally I looked at the African countries and was drawn to Ghana. The potential classes sounded great, it was on the African continent, and language was not a large issue.

My going-away party at Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA, June 2014.
My going-away party at Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA, June 2014.

Now if anyone is interested in studying abroad, make sure you do your homework. UCEAP requires you to take a course that somehow relates to Africa if you want to study in the continent. And because I started in Fall 2013 and wanted to leave in Fall 2014, I needed to have it done by Summer 2014. But summer was not an option, as I needed to work. Instead I looked at the classes for Spring 2014, of which there were few options. I ended up going with South African History, promoting South Africa as the logical choice. While I could have studied South Africa for a semester and gone to Botswana, I figured I might as well put a face to the name and explore race relations, sociology, and sexuality in South Africa. It actually worked in my favor as well, as South Africa is the most accepting country of homosexuality in the continent of Africa, according to polls (I’m definitely dedicating a later blog post to this discussion).

But I must add that South Africa was not my first choice. As a Black man, I wanted to visit the massive continent of Africa at some point in my life because some part of me most likely lies somewhere within. As a human in general, I wanted to visit the continent of Africa because it’s the motherland. But with almost 60 countries and no clue as to where my lineage lies, it felt slightly inaccessible. What I did know, though, was that South Africa felt too close to home in many of the historical parallels and race relations. Why go to Africa to see a very similar composition and even language to what was at home? This was my naiveté speaking, as South Africa is not the same as at home and while there are parallels, the United States has a very different history. After studying for a semester I actually became really excited to see what South Africa had to offer and I’m glad I realized the error of my judgmental ways. As a side note, at least a brief history should be required before studying in another country, particularly in the social sciences. While I’m a huge fan of the arts and happy that some people could take some form of African dance as their requirement–word up to my African dance cohorts here–it has given me such a better understanding. All of my classes reference events I learned in my history course, and one course in particular required that basic understanding of events and apartheid legislation to truly move forward. Coming to study within the social sciences without a background in any of this would have put me at a great disadvantage in comparison to the South African or other students of African origin. That being said, it is completely possible to keep on trucking without this knowledge, but the background put a lot of things in context for me.

So after over two days of travel from SFO to Heathrow, Heathrow to Joburg, and Joburg to Cape Town, I finally arrived on July 5th, 2014 and I won’t be leaving until December. Throughout my time here I hope to continue to blog about my experiences, my impressions, and all of the wonderful things I’m learning both formally an informally. Until next time!

Cape Point, South Africa, July 2014.
Cape Point, South Africa, July 2014.

Black at Cal

“Assuming they’ve benefitted from “power systems” or other conspiratorial imaginary institutions denies them credit for all they’ve done, things of which you may not even conceive. ” – Tal Fortang, 2014

I’m sorry, what? If you haven’t read the article, or any of the rebuttals, please consider it. And then watch this (trigger warning: police brutality, curse words, and a loud scream a few minutes into it) or read this.

This bullshit happened near MY campus recently. UC Berkeley, one of the top public universities in the world. As a Black man, I feel wronged. It is bullshit that this can happen and that Cal alums, Cal students, future Cal students, and the greater Berkeley community have to deal with this. I went to a town hall on campus about this incident and I was definitely not alone in feeling angry, upset, wrong, confused, frustrated, and even a little bit hopeless. These are real people, and these are our lives. Whether something similar has happened to you or those you love, we are all in this together. See if you can spot what Tal Fortang calls “other conspiratorial imaginary institutions” in the flesh. Then come back to me and let me know what you think.

If you’re interested in taking action, please consider downloading this form and writing to the Berkeley Police Commission Review or simply share the link to the video.

Financial Aid – Restarting College at 24

Yo,

I. Have. Been. Stressin’. Let me just tell you.

Let me break it down for you, this is my cost of attendance for my first/junior year at UC Berkeley:

Books and supplies: 1, 226

Tuition and Fees: 12, 864

Health Insurance: 2,014

Living Expenses: 12,754

Total: 28,858

My Gift Aid: 15,401

My Net Cost: 13,457

I kept wondering how I did not have to pay any fees for my undergraduate education. I thought that working full-time and being an independent student would screw me over. So this whole time I’ve been thinking that the financial aid office would recheck my aid and take some of it away, which would be tragic. I was wondering where this magic $15,401 number came from. By my calculations, that covers my tuition and fees, health insurance, and some of my books and supplies. There is $703 of those essential expenses that it looks like I have to cough up myself, as well as my living expenses that they estimate to be $12,754.

The reason I’m being covered is a lovely UC program called Blue and Gold. I’m writing this post to put my thoughts on paper, but also to let my friends who have not finished their undergraduate education that if you get into a UC and fork up the money to live and pay your bills, the UC will have your back and cover your tuition. The link for UC Berkeley’s specific program is here, but it is the same the general one linked above. In short, if you keep up your grades, apply for a cal grant, and make under $80,000 as a household (independent or dependent students), you’re automatically eligible for help. No excess paperwork, no essays, just pure help.

Now this did not relieve me of all of my stress. I still have to find a way to pay my rent, car payment, groceries, etc…with no job. The catch-22 is that getting a job reduces the amount of potential aid (which, in my case is irrelevant because I was not given any aid for living expenses). But I am filing a Student Contribution Appeal to update my status. Currently they think I make a certain amount, but I do not. I quit my job in the beginning of August to become a full-time student. I don’t want to work if I do not have to, that way I can for once just be a student. So my SC should go from what it is now to $0, as that is what I am making. But until I finish this form and until it is processed, I am paying for all of my expenses with no consistent income stream.

So…what’s the only other option? Loans? Oh hell no, I thought. But I need to keep what I have in my savings for emergencies, yet I need to pay my bills. So I did my research. Private loans can start low, around 2.5%, but that is a variable rate that can change and very few qualify for. Most of them really start around 6%-9%, and that is with excellent-to-good credit. Then I realized that part of my financial aid package is a Federal Unsubsidized Loan. I had to look up the difference, and this handy website helped. Then I read these sexy words:

Congress has passed and the President has signed the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013, which ties federal student loan interest rates to financial markets. Under this Act, interest rates will be determined each June for new loans being made for the upcoming award year, which runs from July 1 to the following June 30. Each loan will have a fixed interest rate for the life of the loan.

The following table provides the interest rates for new Direct Loans made on or after July 1, 2013, and before July 1, 2014. These rates will apply to all new Direct Loans made during this time, even loans already disbursed before the passage of the Act.

While I would prefer a subsidized loan, as the interest does not start accruing until six months after separation from the university, the going rate of 3.86% for both unsubsidized and subsidized federal loans is pretty attractive when compared to private loans. I also learned in a Cal financial workshop yesterday that I can wait to accept these loans and therefore not rush into any decisions. I can see if I can hack it until October and then decide I need the $12,500, or chose a partial amount, that they are offering me and go along my merry well.

Basically, what I am saying is that I am a lot more informed now and I lot more comfortable with this whole “student loan” option. Hopefully I can get more gift aid because I am not working, but even so, $25,000 over two years in loans is a lot less than if I had attended Cal for all four years.

P.S. In 2014 this bad boy kicks in: Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act

The Long Route – The Beginning

Timeline:

October:

  • Today’s Date: Monday, October 22nd, 2012
  • UC Application opened and started
  • SAT study session with Lisa
  • Schedule study session with Adele
  • Add to Stanford Common App (Instructor Evals, App, Essays)
  • Find scholarships

November:

  • Registration Deadline for SAT Testing #1 – November 1st, 2012 9PM
    • Wait for email back
    • Register
    • Pay.
  • UC Submission Deadline: November 30th, 2012
    • Contact Schante
    • Complete Personal Statement
    • Complete Additional Information
  • SAT study session with Lisa
  • Schedule study session with Adele
  • Add to Stanford Common App (Instructor Evals, App, Essays)
  • Find scholarships

December:

  • SAT Testing Date #1 – December 1st, 2012
  • Registration Deadline for SAT Testing #2 – December 28th, 2012 9PM
    • Register
    • Pay by December 12th, 2012
  • SAT study session with Lisa
  • Schedule study session with Adele
  • Add to Stanford Common App (Instructor Evals, App, Essays)
  • Select monologues for audition – 1 Contemp, 1 Classical
  • Find scholarships

January:

  • SAT Testing Date #2 – January 26th, 202th
  • UC Transfer Online App Update to submit final grades: Early January, 2013
    • Submit final grades
  • FAFSA  + Cal Grant Verification Form filing period opens: January 1 – March 2, 2013
  • SAT study session with Lisa
  • Schedule study session with Adele
  • Add to Stanford Common App (Instructor Evals, App, Essays)
  • Prepare monologues for audition
  • Find scholarships

February:

  • Prepare monologues for audition
  • Stanford Arts Supplement Audition – Saturday, February 16, 2013 
  • SAT study session with Lisa
  • Schedule study session with Adele
  • Add to Stanford Common App (Instructor Evals, App, Essays)
  • Find scholarships

March:

  • Stanford Common App Deadline: March 15th, 2013
  • Find scholarships

April:

  • Wait

May:

  • Stanford Decision Notification: May 15th, 2013

June:

  • Stanford Reply Deadline: June 1st, 2013
  • UC Statement of Intent to Register Deadline: June 1st, 2013

July:

  • UC Final Official Transcripts due at campus admission office: July 15th, 2013

Fees:

  • $90 application fee for Stanford
  • $70 application fee per UC campus.
  • SAT – $50per registration
    • 4 score reports included free w/each registration
  • Basic Subject Test – $23
    • “We recommend (but do not require) that you submit official results of at least two SAT Subject Tests, as these additional scores often assist us in our evaluation process. You are welcome to submit any and all SAT Subject Tests you have completed. We do not have a preference for the specific SAT Subject Tests you elect to take. However, if you elect to take a math test, we do prefer to see the Math Level 2 test if you feel that your math background has adequately prepared you for this test.”
  • Language with Listening Tests – $23
  • All other Subjects Tests – $12

Whippersnappers!

You know those people who smile when they talk? I love them. You know the ones I’m talking about. Those people who tell a story with a perpetual, genuine smile that makes you want to smile.

Happiness is contagious. It’s so easy to sit and blog or read about x, y, or z, but putting these ideas into practice is another step. Little moments in life inspire me, but try as I might, I often forget the initial impact they had on me. One of my new goals in life is to make sure that I record those little moments that brighten my day. Not just in my memory, but in writing. I want to make sure I can refer to them and manifest the thoughts that initially occur after the event into reality.

Perception is really interesting to me, because without thinking about it, so many thoughts go through my brain upon seeing a person. Where are they going to? What is their background? Do they have a girlfriend? A boyfriend? A sister? Oh, are they an only child? Why do they dress like that? What makes them walk like that? Who influences their style? All within seconds, these questions whiz past me in my brain and I often don’t realize it until I actually meet the person.

I have school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Typically I see the same people walking around because I walk the same route from class to class. The campus is not small, so I don’t know most of them. I also couldn’t describe them to you, but once I see them on Tuesday or Thursday, I recognize them. “You’re that guy who walks with his chest puffed out.” Or, “you’re that girl who is always laughing and having a good time in the cafeteria.” At school today (yesterday), I met an older black woman who I always see walking around campus. I’d see her and wonder where she came from, if she had any kids, and how she found the courage to go back to school at an older age. It’s inspiring to me, because I know it can be a mighty large piece of humble pie for some people. After living life, it feels like starting over at square one. That is not easy for many people, and I predict that I would have a hard time going back to school. Not only that, but some of us college kids are a nuisance. So to deal with that within oneself is a mighty hard thing to do, let alone deal with a bunch of kids who may or may not want to be there. And I’m pretty sure it’s the former, not the latter.

Back to the woman. I was sitting on a bench near the library with a friend of mine, chatting about various subjects. Then this older lady who I recognized, but did not know, asked if either of us had a cell phone. I said that I did, and she asked me to make a call for her. This woman was overweight, and she was over 70 years old, so she needed me to check and see if the campus shuttle was coming to pick her up. As I was on the phone she sat next to us, on the end of the bench. I finished with the phone call and we started to talk. Turns out that she just got off the bus from Dixon, but she wasn’t feeling too well. I told her to take the day off. She affectionately called me baby, mentioning that her day just started. Even if she did want to go back home, she couldn’t leave campus until 4:30pm. So we both agreed she might as well go to her classes if she was already home. As we conversed she impressed my friend and I with her spirit. Here she was, trudging through her day, while other people ditched school because they just didn’t feel like going. Here she was, a recent high school graduate (at age 70), thanking God for all that she said he has done for her. Here she was, inspiring the both of us and teaching us something new. Her psychiatrist said she wouldn’t ever amount to anything, and here she was at school with us. Situations like this make me feel good about life; sometimes people aren’t always dealt the same cards, but it’s how you play them. This woman chose to make something of her life, and that is honorable. Considering how many homeless people exist in the world, how many of them are veterans, and how simple and tempting it is to let circumstance govern your life, she was not one of them. I obviously don’t know her life story, nor do I know her past. But judging from that meeting, she is one who could have easily blamed the world for her problems and gave up, but so far she hasn’t. With age comes wisdom, and she schooled us in the most positive way without even realizing it.

This woman wasn’t one who smiles when she talks or even appears pleasant. But she definitely brightened the day of my friend and I with her humor and with her spirit. She talked about how the disability staff can be rude to her, but how she’ll lay low and get them back in a few days. She joked around with the driver of the shuttle who picked her up, ending our conversation. When the shuttle driver asked if the staff was giving her a hard time, she replied that “it’ll take something bigger than a fly swatter to get rid of me,” causing all four of us to erupt in laughter. It’s the little things in life that count, and this one definitely counts.  Although it happened over the span of four minutes, it definitely is not something easily forgettable. People like that give me hope, and I hope this very simple event continues to inspire me. You’re only as old young as you feel, yeah?