Journey of hope
As a Brooklyn tenth-grader facing an uncertain future, Danny Tejada '09 enrolled in Pace University's Upward Bound Program. That paved the way to his acceptance to Skidmore College through its Opportunity Program for talented New Yorkers whose academic and financial circumstances would otherwise make them unable to attend Skidmore.
At Skidmore, Tejada wanted to focus on academics only. But the course “The African-American Experience” opened his eyes and his heart to who he really was and inspired him to start the Hip Hop Alliance, a club for students to celebrate the culture and educate others about it—including its approach to race, gender, and sexuality.
Now, as the Liberty Partnerships site coordinator at Pace University's High School of Economics and Finance, Tejada is sharing his story with today’s youths.
And this past June, he was invited to give the graduation keynote address at George Westinghouse High School, his alma mater. Like his new book, Different Families, Still Brothers (in paperback and as an e-book), his speech (video) was a story of hope and inspiration, a testament to the power of higher education and to personal strength and spirit:
“The Point of Life,” by Danny Tejada ’09
June 26, 2013
Beating the odds may seem like a strange concept at first. But it is indeed a phrase with a powerful meaning. It means to overcome a challenge or struggle. Believe it or not, all of us have odds we must overcome.
I grew up in a home where my parents fought each other very often. I grew up in a home where my parents were more focused on their packs of beer than my education and doings. I grew up in a home where I didn't let myself be full, so my siblings can be full. Since my parents weren't invested in my siblings, I had to be there for them too. While going to Westinghouse, I realized that the life of being on public assistance and living in the projects in East New York isn't a good life at all. Being in Pace University's Upward Bound Program in the 10th grade made me realize that education was my only way out.
Upon graduating Westinghouse, where I saw half of my class disappear since the ninth grade, I got into Skidmore College's Higher Education Opportunity Program. At Skidmore, I've seen how things were better on the other side. I developed leadership skills in creating a hip-hop culture club called Hip Hop Alliance, where we talked about racism, sexism, and homophobia and successfully pushed for a hip-hop culture class. I learned more about myself, new heroes, and poverty in my major: American studies.
I met two mentors in college who pushed me to give back even more. Listening to them, I became a mentor to two middle school students who were Hispanic. After I graduated from college, without loans, I became a mentor to a black high school student. In being a mentor to these boys, I shared my life story and knowledge of the world with them. From there, I started teaching activism classes in the same Upward Bound Program I was in. I also became the co-chair of the youth ministry at my church in East New York.
In doing all of this, I started speaking to young people like you about progressing in the world and the evils of poverty at various events. At the same time, I came out with a book with my recent mentee, promoting mentoring and giving advice to young people, called Different Families, Still Brothers. Now, I help students like you get into colleges like Skidmore for Pace University's Liberty Partnerships Program at the High School of Economics and Finance.
Want to know the crazy part of my story? When I went to Westinghouse, I couldn't speak at all. I stuttered a lot. Barely anyone understood me. I was shy. This struggle made me cry at night. I started to come out of my shyness when I volunteered in various things like Open School Night and founded a Video Game Club where I put on tournaments. I fully came out of my shell in college with the encouragement of my best friend Mike Thomas. I was never able to express my story verbally until I took acting classes and hosted a radio show in college. Now the boy who was scared to talk to people is helping people get to the next level. Now the boy who thought he didn't have a voice is showing you how golden his voice is.
All of you graduates have beaten a set of odds, but I’m here to tell you all that this is just the beginning. You are going to be beating the odds all your life, from college to graduate school to career to raising a family. The toughest obstacle to overcome is your own self. There will be times where you will ask yourself, “Why me?” There will be times where you ask yourself, “What’s the point?” There will be times where you feel like giving up. But you must remember these words President Obama once said: “Being defeated is a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.”
We are our worst enemy. We must fight ourselves. It can be done. If you have a dream, believe in yourself, work hard towards making that dream a reality, and you will achieve it. Muhammad Ali once said, “Even the greatest have to suffer sometime.” All of you are great, indeed. Don’t let your suffering ever stop you. Let it push you to new heights!
And when you reach those heights, don't forget where you came from. Don't forget that there are brothers and sisters who suffer the same things you have suffered. The point of life is not to become rich. Becoming rich creates a sense of selfishness for most people. You can't take it all with you when you pass away. It won't bring you happiness.
The point of life is to overcome the odds and build others up to do the same. This is what will bring you happiness. This will bring a sense of fulfillment in your life.
You never know—one day you can be up here speaking to your alma mater too. If there is anything I can help you with, feel free to reach out to me via e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter. I wish you all the best in whatever you do. Stay strong. Keep it pushing.
Peace be on to you all, brothers and sisters. God bless!
Danny Tejada’s Web site.