Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Success Stories

I had a rather unpleasant argument with someone about how people in these economically disadvantaged areas just are not working hard enough to attain what they want.  I of course responded that most of the way out of places like North Philadelphia involved 80% luck 20% determination. Of course the person I was arguing with had never lived there nor been in the area so they assumed all of these folks were useless.

I present a few cases to highlight just how "far" someone can go in this type of environment.  I'll number each person to make it easier and list them. I would like to note that these are all in the last 12 years.
  1. This person went to high school and graduated with high honors. Military recruiters came by and saw that they they had high hopes and scooped them up. Twelve years later they were back at home with their parents after a few tours and were unemployable. I don't know the details but I do know the person was honorably discharged. They do have some level of PTSD but function fairly well at home and currently work as a mechanic.
  2. Valedictorian at the local High School and went to college for IT. Ended up not having enough money to finish at the school they selected because they were told by the public high school system not to worry. They were black and black people are flooded with money to go to school. This was simply not the case and the person ended up with $60,000 in debt and no degree. They accomplished some certifications at ITT tech and now work as a Philadelphia School district computer service technician.
  3. Ended up getting a four year degree from a university in computer science and becoming homeless as a result. The persons parents assumed they had enough money to continue on and kicked them out of their home. They were unable to find any entry level jobs and were unable to find a place to live and ended up homeless. Luckily this person was picked up by a friend of theirs who owned a real estate business and hired them. They now work as a Real Estate agent and make a comfortable living.
  4. Was kicked out of his parents house because at age 21 he was now a man. Worked three jobs and went to college to pay for his dorm and tuition. Got a degree in Engineering and graduated with a 3.32 GPA. Was considered undesirable by companies because other students graduated with 3.8+ GPAs and had more time in outside clubs and other activities he could not do because he was working. Moved to Amsterdam and cut off all communication with anyone here. Last I heard he was asking someone for money but I assume with his degree he's somewhat alright.
  5. Wanted to become a Marine Biologist and involve herself in bio-prospecting in the deep marine ecosystems. She had hoped to find a useful bacteria or compound for medicine and start her own company to do so. Her family said they would never talk to her again because minorities don't do anything like that. "Important things are for white people" and forced her to become a doctor because "the money is better and it's for blacks and Latinos". She's currently a pediatrician and although happy regrets her choice not to follow into marine Biology.
Now, I don't claim to know everyone in the neighborhood. Although we are a tight nit community it's possible there are more people out there I don't know about.  However a few common patterns that occur and can be addressed by simple changes to the educational system at large.
  •  Educate the Parents- They need to know early on what college is and what it isn't. They need to know what the risks are and how much it will cost. They need to know that difficult degrees require 3 hours of work a week per credit hour. For a typical student this will amount to 45-60 hours of work per week. 
  • They need to understand the schools their children currently attend are not preparing them for this type of work. They need to understand in some cases they can change this by fighting to change it. They also need to understand in some cases it will never change due to political reasons and they need to do what they can to make sure their child ends up surviving. 
  • We need to explain why a system that has mainly Caucasian or Chinese/Indian scientists is skewed. We need to explain how higher education works and how it's different from normal school. 
  • Universities need to give lower income students a housing incentive to ease their cost of living. In essence many of these students can be considered run aways that are paying the University for their stay. If they want to collect their Alumni funds help them stay in college. It doesn't cost them that much more of their operating budget to give them housing and/or higher pay work studies as long as their grades stay above a certain average.
  • Employers need incentives to pick up people that have an overall hard working image even if they do not fit the template. If they're valuable to your work force and have one insignificantly minor flaw. Hire them for a tax break. It may seem as if they're only going to hire people based on their background but this is what it's going to take.

Now, this isn't just about taking pity on poor kids out there. Sorry, but there's more to it than that. These people are unique to the work force and unique to the political system. Many have seen the worst in the world and can survive through intense periods of stress. They are intensely motivated and do not expect hand outs.*In fact they expect to be turned down more often than not. These are people entering the workforce that are from diverse environments and are on average worlds more tolerant  of others than people who have lived in isolated suburban bubbles of just their kind. These are workers that need an extra push to get them to the top but once they actually achieve their goals they come with an amazingly valuable perspective not seen by others.

(I've heard some whining about this comment  so I'll clear this up. Lots of these kids that go to college are working their asses off to the point its hurting their ability in school. They're not expecting government programs to bail them out because they're working so much school is suffering. There are others of every race that out-compete them simply because they have wealthier parents.)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Another Story of Another Life Lost

This particular girl was a dear friend of mine that I met through rather.. unique circumstances. We'll call her Christine for now. There was a point in my life where I attended an after-school program for troubled teens. They had a computer room where I found one of the computers signed on with an AOL Instant Messenger program left on. I messaged the person when they signed in on their computer. Told them I'd sign off it and to be careful because they never knew who might look into their things. I actually ended up having a conversation with the person on the other end and she later became a good friend of mine.

When I first met her we talked every day all day, texting and AIM mostly. Teenage norm for the time I suppose, especially when cell phones were just starting to get popular. We both had plenty of drama to talk about as her father disappeared when she was very young. Her stepfather had been kicked out of their old house for hiding dildos and other sex toys within the walls. Every week Christine would find a new "treasure" hidden somewhere in the house.  Her mother was a nurse and barely made enough to support the both of them with her stepfather gone.

I think  the hardships she faced coerced her to want to finish high school. She always did well in school although she was prone to "popularity". She sold prescription drugs and weed out of her moms house when she wasn't there to fund her expensive designer clothing. She always wanted to look like a model and wouldn't let herself settle for less. She also constantly went to clubs and parties every day of the week as it was her favorite activity. It's a wonder she got the grades she did with all the drinking and partying she did. In time, I became a voice of reason for her I never abandoned her and stood by her side through the worst of things. We had our teenage moments, we kissed but she was ashamed that I wasn't going to clubs nor was I stylish and trendy. Thus she never became an "offical" girlfriend.

Every week she would find a popular guy to sleep with. I was the only person that asked her whys he was doing it. She would always reply "Because he wanted it, so I had to do it". You see, as a pretty girl in the hood she was an object and used to it. Her neighbor, a 25 year old man often asked her over when his wife was out to have sex with her when she was 13. She was used to it she said, and she liked it so it didn't bother her. At least, it didn't bother her until I created a world shattering event in her life.  After one of her usual days of being too drunk to even catch the bus I escorted her home and she tried to shove me on her bed to have sex with her. I said no, she should have some goddamn self fucking respect before she becomes a walking petri dish. When she recalled the event the next day she was a little shocked, no one had ever told her to have some self respect.

In the months that followed I became her personal therapist. She would tell me her stories of being raped, being abused and generally having her life in "the hood" play out in front of her. My advice was always the same, be strong girl. Keep your head up and keep moving forward, what options do you have otherwise? You going to stay back and just let things pile up on you? At times I would have to intervene directly. Like when the neighbor now 30 years old was looking for some more "fun".  I ended up with a black eye and he ended up with a broken arm. I should've seen it coming that she would refuse to press charges on him.

During my first years of college she ended up working at a call center for a cable company. She liked it there so I wasn't going to complain she wasn't going to college. She still lived in North Philadelphia and I still got random calls about her getting mugged at gunpoint or roofied. Near my senior year she applied to my college and got in. She told me she was determined to do amazingly well and join the marketing careers club on campus. They had a paid trip to New Orleans once a year and onyl those who had risen through the ranks of the club were allowed to go. Given her history I was a bit of a skeptic. But, she proved me wrong and chugged along and actually rose through the ranks in one semester. I can't remember how many bake sales I was coerced into buying from that year.

When I got to grad school... well.. things went a bit downhill. Without my constant reassurance and guidance she slipped away. She joined several groups on campus that in essence ruined her chances at a future. As long as I had known her she had always been bisexual and it wasn't shocking to me that she would want to join the campus LGBT club. More power to her I thought, why the hell not. Hell, "sign me up for the protests and I'll join right in", I thought it was a great thing. It turns out most of the LGBT students on campus were groomed, supported kids from the suburbs that partied all day at their parents expense. When she started skipping classes to go to parties I started asking, you sure you can still go and pass your classes? I was assured everything would be fine and she could handle it all.

My first year of grad school she told me she was now completely gay and how she wanted to be more masculine now. I asked her how she was handling the shift in community,friends and all. She assured me again she would be fine and that she was doing great. The end of the semester came in and she failed every single one of her classes. Every semester I got a call about how she was being stupid and partying every night was ruining her life and how she needed to stop. However, her new girlfriend provided pressure for her to skip classes constantly. I was two states away, and she claimed I could no longer understand her as a straight male. She slipped away entirely and dropped out of college.

She works a job at another call center now and dreams of going back to school eventually. I can't help but think that if I was still around her I could change things. But realistically I couldn't change things, it's impossible. I had my life to live and she had hers. But it's pathetic there was no one around to help her. The LGBT club on campus instead of worrying about her as a fellow student criticized her for not partying. The campus counseling centers never once made the link between her constant need for reassurance and her tattered past. Professors of course assumed that because she was doing these things she was just being a spoiled rich brat. Sadly this was all at her expense, this was all her mess she got herself into. All she needed was someone out there a social safety net on campus to tell her she was doing something wrong. I hear this again and again from underrepresented students at universities. I can't tell you how many doctoral and even medical students have told me some variation of "If it wasn't for that guy I shared my dorm with in grad school pestering me to study I would've never done it". I honestly think it's a handicap and one these students need to be trained out of. But I also think it's ignorant for people from very different backgrounds to just chalk everything up to the person being of less worth than them. This is one of the major items I would like to address in an education program if I ever become a person with some amount of wealth. However, given my current success I'm doubtful that will ever occur so perhaps I can maybe collect my plan and hand it to someone who can do something with it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Criminal acts for long term Success, a Moral Dilemma.

If you had asked me three years ago what I thought of drug pushers years ago I would've given you a rant that lasted about an hour. My answer now is far more complex than it used to be. I am opposed to gangs and I think that the mindless, idiotic brutality expressed by "gangstas" is destroying the poor of the United States. However, gangs don't only deal in drugs, they handle prostitution, laundering and weapons sales. Hell, they even sell bootlegged DVDs and run illegal lottery schemes.

Drugs are just their best product in most places. A way to "cleanse" a shit-hole by adding some fragrance to the festering wound.  However, recently I've noticed how horribly corporate institutions treat customers and I can't help but feel some slight sympathy for some criminals. Stealing from a Walmart no longer feels as horrible as it used to.

I've started to wonder, are there any petty criminals out there that have "made it"? If I myself were to return to North Philadelphia and risk my career by selling bootleg DVDs or pot I grew myself I could easily fend off the risk of being homeless. My own values and fear of repercussions keep me from performing petty crime and instead I would find myself homeless if need be. However, I think it's come to a point where if a system is unfair as I've started in previous blog posts and you have a risky avenue to level the playing field I think it's quite morally correct to do so. I do not believe in violence or theft from others who suffer from the act (IE, the employee at Walmart has nothing to do with the execs). It's a challenging notion that now as I ageo I'm accepting petty crime like pot dealing and counterfeiting as acceptable if it helps you buy a house, move into safety and live a happy normal life. When the odds are rigged and everything is stacked against you is it wrong to cheat? Hard drugs are another matter, they often have their hands in cartels, gangs and destruction of lives. I don't think I'd ever support any involvement in those types of activities. What if I end up on the street tomorrow, would I revert to petty harmless crime to get back on my feet?

I honestly don't think I would, I'm too proud of being a "hard worker". But I've played societies game and it hasn't gotten me any closer to my goals so what do I know.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Dirty Academia Secret

So there's a secret out there being kept about Academia that me and a few of my peers caught onto. I use Academia now because "graduate school" may imply an MBA or a professional degree. Those fields are entirely different territories.

My fellow graduates from my minority  access to graduate careers program have had varying amounts of success in academia from abysmal to well funded and publishing. I'm somewhere in the middle. Mainly due to back luck from lack of weather cooperation. However, I've talked to a few people so far and noticed a few things.

1) Most of our mentors are promising we'll be showered with money for being a minority
2) Most of the "minorities" in college are people of upper socioeconomic  classes.

I decided to try a small experiment to test something in a fairly unscientific way. I noticed most of my friends had heard a rumor that many people receive some support from someone out there to stay in graduate school. This especially applies to schools with students that have little to no rights in their state of study. I asked a few of my friends to start being open and talk about financial earnings with other graduate students. I told them to just ignore the taboo for a bit because it can help a person gain insight into how others manage their money. Although true I was secretly curious about compiling a list of income sources for graduate students across several Universities.

I found that 76% of all the graduate students asked (pool of 84 students) had received at least 20% more income from an outside source. Those that did not were often young parents or from other countries. Of US born fresh from their undergraduate school students (68) all but one were receiving outside support. Two were living off of massive loans that were taken to pay living expenses. Most were living off of parental support of some sort that was critical to their survival. I make no distinction in race/gender because it seems most of the minorities were also receiving funding from upper middle class parents. Out of the 84 I know of only 3 minority students that actually came from a "disadvantaged" background. 

I had often heard of this little secret from professors or faculty, but there is little literature out there that supports this information. I was never told just how deeply rooted the support even for minorities is. I remember going to a conference for minority applicants to graduate school in Reno and seeing people drive around in $40,000-$60,000 cars that were minorities. I also noticed something else about applicants to doctoral programs. The NSF has a lovely little graduate program that pays out $30,000 a year to a promising scientist for 3 years. I've seen that often the winners of the financial award also come from amazingly educated and financed backgrounds. Obviously that isn't always the case as the NSF takes background into account for the award. However I often find myself wondering how someone with a $50,000 a year income ends up winning even more money.

So I suppose I'll pose this question. Is this class suppression? Is this; dare I say this, a form of discrimination? Is Academia rigged so only those from powerful backgrounds succeed? I honestly don't think it's so simple. I think the Universities are scared of the past. They're scared of being sued for discrimination so they try to make things "fair".  They try to give special consideration to disadvantaged students telling them to work hard, save money and do well. That's all they need you see, that's all they need to do to get out there into the world and they'll be just as good as everyone else. If they fail out of school what does it matter? We have minorities here, the schools will proclaim proudly! Who cares if the one black professor we have is from a wealthy family. It's the color of his skin that matters to our demographic composition! Now I'm certainly not saying all graduate students are well taken care of wealthy progeny of successful people. However, in my experience most of them are certainly not from poor backgrounds.

Where I live, the typical Academic Teaching Assistant salary is livable and the health benefits are generous. However, local apartment complexes are increasing rent by 7-10% a year.  The University has no graduate housing and instead contracts these companies to give "deals" to graduate students. The income for graduate students increases by 4% yearly to "keep up" with the rent increases. Technically at the income the University offers us we're eligible for food stamps. But oh no, there's a catch tossed in there. In my area graduate students are not eligible for food stamps because they're in "college". What if you're disabled and can't function? You can forget your research or classes then, because disability considers the very act of going to college a reason to deny you any help. How about car insurance while in graduate school? Oh, I'm a non-married (because I can't afford the wedding she wants) male in "college" that must mean I'm out drinking and partying. $50 increase to your policy for you sir!(Actual conversation I had with Progressive insurance).  Welfare? Nope, you're a grad student you cannot receive any financial assistance. How about paying into Social Security? Again no at some schools. At my University there's also a "graduate student fee" of $1200 a year.  As if it's not enough you're living paycheck to paycheck on their own income. Oh I have an idea! let's form a union like graduate students did in California to earn themselves a $30,000 salary! Nope, can't do that forming a union of graduate students is illegal in this state. Speaking of the government, if you're not aware most graduate students will receive some sort of deferment on their student loans. That ends July 2012, enjoy.

We're supposed to live in a capitalist society where people are rewarded for hard work. Puritan values and all that sort of thing which I'm sure you're aware of. However, it seems that at least in academia if you come from a poor background they may have just as well have shot you in the leg and told you to run. Academics are the source of Philosophy, innovation and the economic engine of our country. The very computer you're on right now is the result of research and dedication from an academic institution. We claim we live in a "fair" society but we are actively and maliciously beating those who want to rise up, those who WANT to work back into a life of government programs or homelessness.

I'll speak personally and say that as of right now I'm an inch away from homelessness every single day. I have a Bachelors degree in Biology, I have a teaching certificate for high school programs and I've worked my ass off to get hundreds of dollars in funding for my research. I've been awarded many grants and done everything I was " supposed" to. There's a good chance I will never get anywhere important because of my economic situation and many of my ideas that may help society will never see the light of day. Because I'm from a poor background. Because I was born into something I couldn't help being.

I'll close by saying that during the height of the internet bubble two young men set a pitch in old projector slides for an online magazine and were given $25 million. I have to struggle to barely receive $5,000 in funding from agencies to develop methods that will help feed the hungry across the globe.

More Info: http://www.jstor.org/pss/1085583

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lottery Tickets and North Philadelphia

The Powerball Lottery is at 245 million, quite a hefty figure. However in the poorest parts of the grand ol United States the lottery is both a tax and a shred of hope for the hopeless. To put this into perspective imagine for a moment you're an older person. Your education is over and probably won't help get a job. In North Philadelphia the end of your life is a world surrounded by violence. You barely have enough money to get by and life is generally depressing. You value your friends and those around you and seek joy and comfort in them.

The lottery acts as a hopeful yet unlikely thing. It promises to break the shackles of poverty and set you free. It promises to make all of your wildest dreams come true. If you play daily it even rewards you from time to time. It lets you taste it's fruit while not allowing you a bite. It calls to you and says one more play, give me one more dollar and I'll promise you riches. People line up sometimes around the block around lotto vendors. The poor are desperate for hope even in the richest country in the world. Some waste money they need for their own survival on it expecting massive returns.

Personally, I still play the lottery. Only when it's at massive jackpots to justify the loss of a dollar. The winnings would satisfy my debts, I would attempt to finish my degree without fear. I would push as hard as I could to accomplish what I can. A mentor of mine once taught me that the empires of old succeeded because they didn't have to worry about their personal well being. In my case the same is true, I'm fairly certain getting a doctoral degree would be worlds easier if I didn't have to worry about eviction every month and was not living paycheck to paycheck. I also will keep my vow to change the hellhole I came from into a proper, fluid, and successful place I can be proud of.

But, knowing my math means I know the chances of winning are beyond zero.
I will die hoping to accomplish all that I can.

Monday, September 26, 2011

To occupy wall street: stop crying start fighting

It’s been a while since I’ve written in this thing. But I figured I would take a few moments to recognize the occupywallst protesters. The occupy wall street protesters would be the first time in my life I’ve ever seen anyone fight for rights. I applaud them for what they’re doing but I feel it comes from a privileged background of people. Now before I’m chewed apart I should note that obviously these folks are from the “99%” as they call themselves.
But many of these protesters are obviously not from incredibly poor backgrounds. Many of them have the typical hipster outfit on and are showing a holier than thou approach to some of their actions. They’re surprised when the police show very light brutality and shocked. They post on their website the “crimes” committed against them. I hate to point these things out as they’re the only game in town so to speak. But here’s some advice from someone that dealt with the police daily.
First of all, stop telling the police they’re  part of the 99% you’re being pretentious. You’re doing the same thing George Bush said when he said you’re either with us or against us. Honestly The police probably don’t give a crap about your movement. None of them understand or care about what you’re doing and you’re causing them an inconvenience by making them change their daily routine. Understand this: being maced, and arrested is not brutality and your definitions of “legal” and “fair” do not apply here.  I believe entirely that if a NYC police officer killed one of the wall street protesters a court would throw out the case. They can do whatever the hell they want to you at any point in time during your protest. 
They are 9/11 heroes and they get massive donations from the wealthy on wall street. You are blocking traffic and causing a scene which makes their job harder. The public will not be on your side. As a result you have to realize that your attempts to say “oh they’re blue collar police” are pointless. Do not offer the police coffee and water do not show kindness towards them they do not care. From dealing with the police for my entire life I suggest you instead respect their decisions and what they ask you to do. They will always be right you will always be wrong. If they kick you out of somewhere, leave but setup camp elsewhere. Do the whole thing again the next day.  Honestly stop whining and crying about the “brutality” you face because it’s not there. It tells the world you’ve never seen an ounce of brutality and violence in your life and makes you seem like a fool.
The media will continue to ignore you because you’re fighting heroes. You’re criticizing the very institution they fight to protect. You will not be televised with 200 people wandering the streets. You will need numbers. It’s much harder to ignore thousands of protestors on wall street than it is a few hundred people whining about their nonexistent rights. Keep up the fight folks, don’t give up and keep growing in number. I’ll join you guys soon enough.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Class war and Minorty graduate students.

If you haven't quite noticed, the government has decided to punish graduate students further. This worries me as the graduate students from "the hood" I've spoken to are very unstable. In the last month two of my friends have gone to therapy and have not made it past the recent events. Financial burden and lack of an ability to help people in their close families has completely destroyed these kids who thought they were going to get ahead. I sat with a friend of mine from a similar background and watched as her thoughts became incoherent and she lived in a dirty, unsafe apartment, obviously not good for professional development. This girl works hard she lives in her lab, shes worked her ass off for close to a decade now with nothing to show. Her hard work has not and will not get her anywhere. Because her parents abused her and she was taken into foster care she will pay the consequences for the rest of her life. She will never become rich, she will never achieve financial Independence. Anyone born into those conditions is screwed regardless of race. For her as a Hispanic woman, she already has connotations attached to her image, lets just fuck with it some more why don't we?

The rich are sharing no part of this burden, not a single punishment passed onto them in any single form.  Teach a course for them and they bask in their superiority over you the instructor. Oh the poor just don't work hard enough, I'm a genius I come from X background and I'm doing great! I'm an upper middle class child of X person and my life is peachy!  Let's consider the powder keg we're dealing with when I mention minority graduate students:

1)You have very intelligent experts in the sciences
2)They are mentally unstable
3)They are poor
4) You are knocking them down and mocking them
5) You have just passed laws to give them a reason to foster hatred
6)They have nothing to lose.

I really, really hope the wealthy realize that after this debt cieling fiasco they are playing with fire. For the first time in nearly three decades a group of young minority students has been given the opportunity to break the bonds of financial bondage. They have been given the chance to break free from slavery and  make their lives better. You have just taken that away from us. You have just given minority graduate students out supporting their families and themselves an extra $300 in debt a month to rescue ourselves from. We don't have upper middle class parents to bail us out of this situation, our only option is to go back to the streets. When we return there you'll tell us we're overqualified and discriminate against us in the job market.

I'm sorry wall street but I'm not going back to the hood. I'm not going back to food stamps and violence. I'm not going to have the hopes in my life snatched away from me you fucks. I worked my ass off, I crawled out of hell itself only for you fucks to knock me back down and tell me to go fuck myself. If you want to play the game of protest we played in the 1960's and 1970's with me bring it on. Honestly I'm hoping the rich prod us with their stick some more. New royalty of the world, keep fucking with us I really hope you do. The fury you're about to unleash upon yourselves better be something you can handle. Make me homeless, I fucking dare you, I fucking dare you to give me less to lose every single day of my life. It's time to organize and I'm going to manipulate the same mold-able minds of people in the churches of low income neighborhoods the same way you have. I'm going to show you what happens when a large group of people realize they're being oppressed in large numbers.

I think I'll go to church next week in Philadelphia and I'm going to start inciting the people of the Hispanic community to wake the fuck up. I expect anyone reading this to do the same. Wake up, talk to your neighbors, go to your local community centers where the public gathers. Make power points, posters, shock them. Give them damning shocking evidence in the same way the local news media attempts to scare them every night. Use the same tricks the main stream media pulls on them using our knowledge and what we know about the rich. Bring the fight to them, use our intellect to fight dirty. Do it slowly and calculate it carefully. It's time to take the gloves off.


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