When I attended M.D. Collins High School a math teacher didn’t bother to help me when I was struggling with geometry. This particular teacher saw I was having a hellacious time but instead of helping me she said, “I looked at your DPR (duplicate permanent record) and saw you have enough math credits to graduate high school. You can fail this class, stop working and put your head down or stop coming to class and you will be just fine” which is what I did. To this day I ask myself, “Why did I listen to you? Why in the hell would you tell a child some shit like that?” Before you assume “who” she was let me just tell you she was black so it was not a race thing. I have forgiven her ignorance but I have not forgotten.
When I graduated high school I really had no sense of direction. Sure there were counselors in high school but no one told me what to do or how to use them. I pretty much floundered around trying to figure out what my next steps were. I only had two friends in high school so hanging with a click and learning what to do was not an option. I was also very shy and asking for help was something I would not or could not do. I heard people in school talking about going to college and figured if they are going I should to. I sent applications to the various schools in Atlanta. In the end I chose Georgia State University because they were really cheap.
Back in the 80’s it was pretty easy to get into GSU. You fill out an app, pay your tuition and go to school. You didn’t need to write an essay or know Pythagoras's theorem. All you had to do was pay the money and they let you in. Most importantly I didn’t need a scholarship to pay for classes. As a teenager I didn’t know what a scholarship was and to be honest I learned the etymology of the word when I hit my mid 20’s. I just knew you needed it for college. I learned through GSU how to apply and tried for a few. Apparently you can get free money for school if you do certain things such as play a sport, participate in debate or “be smart”. No one told me about the other types of scholarships such as need based or student-specific. I learned about those much later in life. Since I didn’t play sports or debate that left, “be smart”. Because of that teacher and the F on my record I could not “be smart” therefore, no scholarships.
What that grade did to my opportunity at GSU was make it extremely difficult to move forward in math class and college in general. I was put in remedial math and had to pay to learn what I should have learned for free but I was able to take other classes and enjoy some of the trappings of being a college student. I heard about the Black Fraternities at GSU so I read some pamphlets from the various frats on campus. As I read about Alpha Phi Alpha I felt this stir in my bones. There was something about their philosophy of brotherly love and “to destroy all prejudices....." that hit me in the soul. I knew this was where I needed to be. I tried to join the GSU chapter of AΦA but because I felt SOOO stupid with regards to math I wound up dropping out of GSU before I was accepted as a member of AΦA.
Anytime something mathematical was put in my face I froze. I kept hearing, “Stop working and put your head down” and in essence I would do that. This transferred to other aspects of my life. I would stop trying and move on to something else. For twenty plus years I allowed this one phrase, “Stop working and put your head down” to make me feel stupid when all along I was smarter than I knew..