By Lynn Edmonds • Staff Writer
How to afford college, balance a budget, and choose a career were all topics at a recent workshop “Translating Potential into Success” hosted by Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and Flushing’s Ebenezer Baptist Church last Thursday.
The event was geared toward young adults who were applying to college or preparing to launch a career. It featured a panel of men and women of color who had achieved career success in seven diverse fields, including government, education, information technology, corporate, legal, non-profit and faith-based.
Around 60 people attended the event; all but a handful of them older than the target age group.
Meng said that such programs were sorely needed.
“It’s hard to be a young person of color these days,” she said, adding, “Programs are constantly being cut and under funded.”
She said that in about 50 percent of schools superintendents were being forced to either cut or eliminate extracurricular programming, due to a sequester in Washington.
“The Republicans must understand that we cannot callously reduce funding at the expense of our children,” she said.
After Meng’s remarks, panelists answered a moderator’s questions about how they achieved success in their fields.
Victoria Brown, Esq., Principal Law Clerk to the Hon. Justice Leslie G. Leach, Supreme Court-Queens County Criminal Division, received applause when she explained the steps that she took to reach her current position.
“My first step was that I had to believe in myself,” she began.
She went to CUNY, which she said was “full of a lot of kids just like me, who were just learning to believe that they were smart enough.”
Her second step, she said, was to overcome a lack of knowledge about the opportunities and career paths that were available to her and what she had to do to get them.
Thirdly, she said, “having gotten that knowledge, I had to get the money” to fund her degree. She said it was important to apply for scholarships, and mentioned that she received a full ride to law school.
Brown also stressed the importance of finding funding for the preparatory classes that can make such a big difference on standardized tests such as the SAT and the LSAT – tests which in turn play on oversize role in how admissions officers perceive a student.
“Can’t do it without a prep class,” she said of the standardized tests.
Next, Brown said, you have to “work very, very, hard. Put your all in.”
She cautioned “do not be afraid to leave your friends behind,” and she stressed the importance of socializing with peers and higher ups as one advanced through college and beyond.
Lastly, Brown said that as she entered the job market “I needed people to believe in me.”
Her networking and hard work paid off throughout her career, including when Brown received a job offer for her current position.
“My judge called me and said I believe you are a hidden gem,” Brown said.
She admitted “it’s a job I absolutely love, its something I never expected, it’s wonderful.”
Moira Jack, a sales engineer at Check Point Software Technologies, was also positive about her job, but said her path was more “free flowing,” and that she learned through experience that she “had an aptitude toward technology solutions.”
She urged students to “learn what is available, what’s evolving,” and be open to new paths.
She stressed that part of growth was pushing one’s limits.
“If you don’t get uncomfortable, you’re not going to move forward,” she said. “Be prepared for change.”
Kevin Boston-Hill, Chief Education Officer at Roosevelt Children’s Academy Charter School, echoed Jack on the importance of flowing with new opportunities as they came.
“You’re going to prepare for jobs that don’t even exist yet,” Boston-Hill predicted.
He said that he had found his calling in education, though he had begun studying law before he realized it wasn’t right for him.
“Was I doing it for me, or was I doing it for my parents?” he asked himself, before taking his mother out to lunch and telling her that he wasn’t returning to law school.
“Find what your true passion is and follow your true passion,” he said. “Do what you have to do now…that will take your to your final destination,” the school administrator added, explaining that all his past work experience still helped him in his current job.
Amilcar Javier, a software developer at Morgan Stanley, said his biggest piece of advice to young people was to “get some type of internship,” in order to get out of the catch-22 that can prevent many young people from breaking into a new field: to get hired, you need experience, but to get experience, you need to get hired.
The panelists also spoke about the challenges they faced as women and men of color, and how they overcame them.
Deputy Borough President Melva Miller, who is African American, said she refused to be typecast because of her gender and race.
“It’s very important that I’m not pigeonholed,” she said, citing that as a reason she has been able to have a greater impact on the borough.
She talked about her interview for her current position with Borough President Melinda Katz.
‘People in Western Queens talk about you, and people in Southeast Queens talk about you,’ she said the borough president told her.
Lastly, the panelists, among them John Burke, Career Program Manager at the Boys Club of New York, and Rev. Cornell Gibson, Associate Minister for Christian Education, urged students to venture into the unknown and join them in their respective fields, where in many cases women and people of color and underrepresented.
Jack said there were “almost no women” in her field, and said she could remember encountering an African American woman as the head of a team maybe once.
“Ladies, I need you,” Jack said.
Similarly, Brown told the primarily African American audience, “I need you to come with me, I’m lonely.”
“A lack of knowledge and a fear of the unknown will keep you stuck in South Jamaica, Queens,” Brown added. Recalling how she viewed successful people when she was younger, she said “we don’t know that we are just like they used to be.”
In the same vein, Javier talked about ‘imposter syndrome,’ a feeling of not belonging that underrepresented groups can be especially vulnerable to.
“Understanding that I deserve to be there, is a really big thing,” Javier said.
After the panel, Colleen Gearns of “Cents Ability” offered audience members a financial literacy workshop covering banking, saving, and other key aspects of financial planning. She mentioned common budgeting pitfalls, like not taking into account taxes when calculating one’s monthly income based on salary.
“UniFi Scholars” hosted another workshop that took apart key misconceptions about funding college – like the idea that a state school is necessarily cheaper than a private university. Founders Georges Clement and David Helene explained that the listed tuition at elite schools is not the price that most students pay. They went on to say that future scholars can calculate their expected contribution to tuition on each college’s website, and many times it is far below the school’s sticker price.
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana