July 3, 2017. The day I moved to Mantua, a small neighborhood on the northern side of Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania. I came to visit Penn GSE during the Admissions Open House in March of 2017, so I was slightly familiar with University City, but what I didn’t realize was when I signed on to move into my apartment, that I would be relocating to one of the most under-resourced neighborhoods in the nation. Living in an area of urban blight was not a problem for me; the problem lied in the greater issue of this neighborhood being nested in not only one of the largest metropolitan’s in the nation, Philadelphia, it also is a 25-minute walk from one of the most well-resourced institutions in the world, the University of Pennsylvania.

Immediately after meeting my new roommates and unpacking a few bags, I reverted into an emotional state of both comfort and calling. From birth, I have lived, survived, and through resilience, thrived in communities of color which are far too often the pocket areas of municipalities that lack basic amenities such as a grocery store and/or a pharmacy. As I explored the neighborhood, this was the case, once again. Most would move, or find comfort in a more affluent part of town. Instead, I find myself comfortable being in uncomfortable spaces; these types of circumstances often challenge my creativity and enhance my survival strategies. The other side of it is understanding where I come from to know where I am going. That’s where the calling comes in. As I mentioned, I was born, raised, have studied, been deployed, and still serve in some of the roughest communities throughout the United States and will not cease anytime soon.

From my small hometown Muskegon Heights, Michigan, where entire streets display boarded buildings, to my home away from home Dallas, Texas (South Oak Cliff community), where a large portion of the show First 48is recorded, I have not only studied and worked with some of the most underprivileged, I have lived that life. There is a great work to be done in communities like Mantua of West Philadelphia, and I know I have been called at a time such as this to play a part in this development. Through the foundational education and resources of University of Pennsylvania and the creative calling within me, there will be a transition in West Philly.

Living in Mantua, I see people that look like me. People that desire many of the same things I do, they just may be looking for a way to express that. I have found the classroom as a great way to learn how to express oneself in a safe space where your allowed to mess up. It’s my hope to bring a greater attachment to higher education in the community by working with Cheney University of Pennsylvania, the oldest Historically Black College in the nation, to strategically recruit young people in West Philly looking for a way out of their often-unpleasant lifestyles. Higher education can be a gateway to prosperity and as a young, African-American male and educational enthusiast it is my duty to use relatability and factual truth to change the lives of those who so desire it to be changed.

When I walk around the neighborhood and think about why I am here, I am reminded of my life’s work. It is my aspiration to become a university president, but more importantly, I yearn to be develop communities through educational access, racial and gender equity, and to produce economic development through social entrepreneurship.Walking through Mantua I see a small library that I’ve studied at, a black-owned barbershop that I’ve faithful utilized every Sunday morning, and beautiful brown American people striving to best the best they can be. The neighborhood is not an unsafe place. I’ve spent many nights walking from UPenn to my apartment and you could hear a pen drop. Not to mention there is around the clock bike security patrolling all the neighborhoods surrounding University City. Ultimately, these are many of the reasons I decided to begin my one-year Masters of Science in Education (Higher Education) during the summer before my cohort arrived in the fall. I needed this moment. It was imperative for me to get a lay of the land before I embarked on this journey as a graduate student in this rigorous and highly accelerated program.Moving to Philly, to say the least I was surprised, but then again, I wasn’t surprised. Penn is everything and more than I thought it would ever be; but the troubling landscape of its surround neighborhoods deserve greater attention and in this work, I know it starts with you (as in me!).