My name is Michael Gaines and I am a soccer player at Penn State University. The last month has certainly been difficult and disheartening in some ways, and encouraging in others. I have never faced overt and blatant racism to this point, although I’ve had uncomfortable race related moments in my life. This, in fact, is my opinion on how I’ve experienced my own type of privilege.
In high school, I was blessed with the chance to work with people in the heart of our nation’s capital from low economic backgrounds (many even homeless) all four years, and specifically with children my senior year. I learned a great deal from these experiences about racism in this country that we don’t see on television or talk nearly enough about. Without going into a history lesson, I learned about this cycle of poverty that has trapped people of color for many generations. This is due to laws, regulations, and funding that negatively impact our communities and harm us the moment we are born. I was fortunate to come from a family that does not suffer entirely from this cycle; I am middle-class and have attended private school my whole life. However, so many of us are never given a chance, and that is where I believe we have to do more. All of the children I worked with have the same goals and ambitions my friends and I had in private school at their age: professional athletes, astronauts, doctors, lawyers, etc. The sad reality is though, because of the poverty they were born into, they are already so far behind where I was at their age. It has nothing to do with intelligence either, because many of them are very bright. However, their schools and their neighborhoods don’t get the same amount of funding that public schools in suburbs all of 20-45 minutes away are getting. They don’t get on buses to go on field trips outside the city, let alone anywhere inside the city (and if they do it’s a real luxury). They deal with real trauma like hunger and violence that stems from their parents’ economic condition, something they had no control over. Because of it, many of them grow up and become trapped in the same cycle and pass it on to their own children.
As an African American man in this country, I am not blind to the many injustices I am potentially subject to. As we’ve seen over the course of time, no amount of education or higher public access can save you from becoming a victim of racist and hateful acts. My point in writing this though is to hopefully encourage more people to dig deep into this issue and see that this goes beyond hateful acts we see out in the open. As African Americans at an institution of higher learning, many of us have experienced our own privilege that has gotten us to this point. It is our responsibility to take advantage of this blessing and continue to open doors for the people that look like us that have not had these same opportunities. It is important that we turn out to vote not just in national elections, but in all our local elections so that we empower people with our best interests. It is key that we educate ourselves on these issues and work to get money into our schools and educate our youth so more of us can grow up and be in the positions to make decisions that affect our communities. I have seen an overwhelming amount of support for black causes and people over the last month. It is time to harness this energy into the next step that goes beyond protesting and signing petitions. It is time to learn and work to repair a system that has been broken for so long. Only in doing this will we create real change.