Tag Archives: Role Models

All Black Children are College Material

I recently spoke to a friend with whom I attended kindergarten through eighth grade in Detroit. I hadn’t spoken to my friend Eric for nearly 30 years. He found me on Facebook as he diligently worked to re-unite our junior high school classmates. In the course of our conversation, we spoke about the fact that during high school we were both placed in all-white environments. Such an experience was a culture shock to say the least, and quite frustrating. After living in Detroit, and attending school with almost no white students, Eric moved to Kentucky. And after one semester at an integrated high school, I moved to Oakland County, Michigan. Eric and I share two common themes: we were among a handful of black students at our respective schools and our guidance counselors told us we should not go to college – we weren’t college material.

My high school guidance counselor was a graduate of Eastern Michigan University. During a school event, the counselor advised any senior interested in attending his alma mater should visit him. He claimed he would write a letter of recommendation for any interested student. Therefore, I added EMU to my list of potential colleges. When I went to the counselor to discuss this, he told me I shouldn’t go to college. He said I was good with my hands and a vocational school would be the right choice for me.

I wonder how many middle-class, suburban white kids my counselor tried to discourage. Similar dissuasion often takes place during college and in the workplace. However, by staying focused on goals and having access to mentors and positive role models, black youth should know there is no limit to their potential. Fortunately for Eric and I, we had such mentors and role models. All black children are college material.

Needless to say, Eric graduated from the University of Michigan, earned a master’s degree at Cambridge University, and a J.D. from Columbia University. Now he is a practicing attorney and I’m confident Eric made a wise decision to attend college. I, too, graduated from college and earned a graduate degree. I also made a wise decision as my education is the foundation of my success. But in one respect my high school guidance counselor was correct; I am good with my hands. Every time I shake hands with a U.S. President, CEO of a major corporation, or use the manual shifting mode in my expensive automobile, I think about how great it is to be good with my hands.


Greg Collier pictured in his office in West Palm Beach, Florida

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Two Degrees of Separation, James Baldwin and the power of Role Models

As I spoke to a successful businessman, I asked about someone who spends summers in Martha’s Vineyard, as he does. He was surprised I knew a particular friend of his.

I then said to him, “There are just six degrees of separation,” as in the title of the award winning play.

The gentleman replied, “With black people, there are just two degrees of separation.”

I stood silent for a moment to digest his statement. How prophetic  –  as a black man, there’s a minimal amount of separation between myself, a homeless person, or a senior corporate executive who is African American. In some respects, there is no separation at all. After all, even the most successful black men have difficulty catching a taxi in New York City.

So what separates us? Education, experience, access to opportunity, confidence, perseverance? There are many factors, but access to role models can help blacks understand our history, learn different points of view, see opportunities, avoid or overcome pitfalls, and thrive as individuals, families, and communities.

I’ve been fortunate to have many role models. I never had the opportunity to meet Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X, but I had the fortune to meet author and civil rights activist James Baldwin, who knew Dr. King and Malcolm X. At the time I was 14 years old, too naïve to understand the magnitude of meeting James Baldwin, or the degree of separation between myself , Mr. Baldwin, and his elite circle of friends and acquaintances. Meeting Mr. Baldwin and his mother, Emma Berdis Jones Baldwin, was an empowering moment in my life. The circumstances of our meeting is a thesis in and of itself, so I’ll digress – the confidence, eloquence and majesty of James Baldwin were apparent the moment I met him.

James Baldwin and a statue of William Shakespeare

Upon reflection, meeting James Baldwin reinforced the fact that if I work hard, I can achieve whatever I desire, and if someone impedes my ability to achieve, I must have the fire next time to overcome the obstacles in my path. As a tribute to Dr. King, Malcolm X., James Baldwin and the other African Americans who built a foundation that allows me to achieve, I must preserve their legacy by celebrating black history month, being a mentor, role model, and helping others achieve prosperity.

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