Birth Story and the Case for Putting College Advisors on Trial
The curious thing about learning about one’s birth is to think to a time where the world was without you. To imagine the world before your arrival. Not a tremendous feat, but doing so almost immediately forces one to consider then, a world after one’s departure.
This was where I found myself. It was the day after thanksgiving and having received some news regarding a friend’s health, my mother was decidedly assured that God’s hand would show victorious as He had done so many times before.
Like when it was believed I might die before I even lived. It was February 21 in Lagos, Nigeria, and my mother, a 4 foot 11 midwife was in serious distress. Barely able to breathe, she carried me in utero. The doctors had been unable to find a heartbeat and this was the second day of labor. Time transpired and somehow I managed to press on to the third day. On February 22, I was delivered by Cesarean and arrived into the world blue. Only God could have released me from the throws of death, ushering me to life with a cough, a sneeze and then a transfiguration from blue to pink.
To tussle with one’s birth story is to reflect on how one came to be, and when, and where and with whom. I don’t know the full story of my birth, but the few details I have are alarming. When I was younger, and I learned the abridged version, I toted it proudly. “My mom was in labor for three days with me” I would proudly say. I suppose when you are 8 years old, not understanding much of the havoc that birth can wreak, nor appreciating the battleground that is the female anatomy, or contending with the fact that black women, largely are 243% more likely to die in birth-related complications than any other women among all SES and education levels.
But I digress.
To grapple with one’s birth story is to intentionally consider how our lives have been orchestrated and what possibly, our futures might hold. To consider this is to feel a rush of gratitude and thanksgiving for every precious breath one has breathed from this point. It is to understand that life is a precious gift.
When I was younger, I believed I was special. Like many kids, I thought I was a princess. And while there exist many noble people, chiefs and kings and queens of many villages in Nigeria, my family was not royalty, I would later learn. The story of my birth only confirmed this imagined belief, however. Whatever my future, it was so bright that the Devil did not even want me to live. But what did this belief, that I was special and important and unique and destined for great things, how did that shape me?
Gratitude, certainly. Thanksgiving is the meaning of my name, Opeyemi. Purpose, for sure, and maybe even a defiant belief that I was meant for a better calling.
That each thread of our lives functions to curate a more meaningful story is something that I’ve held on to for as long as I could remember. It all means something, right? And how would I derive that meaning? In the most positive way possible.
Having read Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” I dare to say, that in her story, I see many parallels to my own. Her humble beginnings, determined mother, self-reflective persona, taking solace in the ability of an education to open doors, previously shut, or unentered by people who look like you. Having been written off and considered aiming too high by advisors whose reality now framed their outlook and who handed out death sentences over the dreams of others.
I mean, who are these college advisors anyway? What are their qualifications? Did they score particularly high on some test for the suitability to dole out futures? Have they been properly vetted and screened for the job they now hold? Many of them I’m sure are well-meaning but far too many of them, still are dangerous. I have listened to good friends tell me of their crimes. “you aren’t smart enough to be a doctor.” ”you should consider a different career” “Princeton isn’t suitable for you” “How can she do this, when she’s about to fail out?”
For many people I know, these prescriptions were never filled. Rather, they chose to ignore the disgraceful advise of these people and go on to accomplish more than could have ever been dreamed.
You may have heard this before, but the entire system is broken. Education, just one sector facing casualties. Systemic racism is so pervasive in this country that it has infected every single industry. It is not a curious act, or a series of misfortune or accidents. It is the sum total of hundreds of years of ill-intentioned law and policy meant to uphold white, male hegemony in a nation robbed from indigenous peoples.
I have never put someone on trial. Because I’m a dentist, not a lawyer. However, I have watched a lot of Suits and I have quite a few sorority sisters and girlfriends who are lawyers, so I think I’m quite suitable for the role.
To the advisors that dash out murderous prescriptions, kill dreams, project fear, and truncate destinies, or at least intend to, all before 2nd period, Shame on you. Like a camera phone in the face of a racist, we are shining the light on you today. It is unfortunate that circumstances have brought you here and you are now in the position to determine who possesses the grit to undergo which path. Yet, in the face of just one of many discrepancies, you choose to flesh out those students who you determine, (by wisdom of your own biased yard-stick) will not make the cut. Might I suggest you take a listen to their birth story?
Doing so would show you that having escaped death, (and I do not mean this symbolically), having being willed to live, and thrive by wrinkled hands and weary prayers, the students whom you have determined to be ill-equipped for the rigors of (let’s face it,) a white-male dominated career, have already bested maternal and childhood mortality, community violence, indiscriminate poverty, the stress of the culmination of all these happenings, micro-aggressions in the classroom, macro-aggressions in the community, standardized testing riddled with bias that (you guessed it) does NOT benefit them, the growing difficulty in access to higher education, being more likely to be deemed a problem than to receive help for having a problem. All this and more, some as early as their first spelling test. And you think your best defense is to discourage them from pursuing this dream? As if this latest dream is the one that will break the camel’s back? That this most recent pursuit, having seen no familiar faces nor footsteps will cause them to turn back or stand still for lack of a seemingly suitable path. Pure foolishness. You ought to consider how you can break down the barriers rather than continue to buttress them. Pitiful. You ought to encourage dreams, arming them with resources and planning, not disarming them with scoffs and fearful reality checks. Doing so just might make you worthy of your position, peculiarly primed to prepare precious students for the new challenges that lie in wait.