Truth vs. Perception: Representation Matters
Big Thought presents Truth Versus Perception, a multi-part series that intimately explores and shares experiences of the Fellows of The Fellowship Initiative designed to dispel the negative, perceived notions of young men of color.
These are their words. Their experiences. Their truths. Listen and unlearn.
Meet Omar. Four years ago, a ‘shy and timid’ high school sophomore was introduced to The Fellowship Initiative – Dallas (TFI) by one of his instructors at Dallas ISD’s Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy. Shockingly, Omar shared this particular teacher was and has been the only Latina teacher he’s ever had. Described by TFI leadership as intelligent, sure spoken, enterprising, stylish and professional, Omar was destined for college, but was unsure of how to get there. Being the first in his family to attend college, even with his family’s support, Omar realized that he would need assistance with college applications and entrance process. He knew TFI could help support his college aspirations.
TFI is a full commitment. A commitment where the Fellows spend three Saturdays a month, as well as three weeks during the summer. The Fellows participate in various workshops, learning social and emotional skills, leadership development, college tours, cultural trips all under the guidance of staff and advisors.
“Without the program I’m not sure where I would be. TFI is a brotherhood and the various experiences, essay writing and trips helped me. I also bonded with other Fellows, not just from my school, but from the other cohorts. I wouldn’t change anything about the program,” stated Omar.
Omar wants people to listen to his ‘experience’ to help them better empathize AND APPRECIATE different experiences, and not “assume the worst, instead of the best.”
A first-generation Mexican-American, Omar is proud of his heritage while conscious of the stereotypes often attributed to him as the son of a laborer. Those notions of who he is sometimes causes him to feel a bit uncomfortable in certain spaces where he and other Black and Latino men are singled out because of the color of their skin. Omar recalls a time when a group of Fellows elected to clean a neighborhood recreation center only to be questioned ‘what trouble they had gotten into to have to complete court assigned community service.’ Omar wants people to listen to his experience to help them better empathize and appreciate different experiences and not “assume the worst, instead of the best.”
Today, Omar is a freshman at the University of Michigan majoring in Engineering. During senior year, his engineering spark was lit after hearing Kevin Toliver a Principal Engineer from Raytheon spent the day with TFI addressing the Fellows. Like Omar, Toliver was the youngest child from a large, loving Black family and openly shared his family could not afford to send him to college, but had a passion for engineering paving a successful career path. Omar was inspired. Hearing another man of color share his story, dreams and experiences similar to his own, Omar was encouraged to pursue engineering. Omar hopes to declare his specific interest in Computer Science Engineering in the Spring. #ThisIsBigThought
Applications for the next cohort are now being accepted for high school sophomores.