Through the eyes of an island boyWhen I first stepped onto Duke’s campus, I felt the loneliness and distance from home. Not to mention facing my hardest academic struggle with nothing but my tears and reflection to keep me company.
As a freshman, I noticed that the cold of the winter did not end in March. That it continued in the eyes of the people I saw everyday and in the ignorance of the minds I studied with. As I saw everyone in their own groups, I felt like that awkward, lonely kid from the Virgin Islands. I felt like that one black kid who never fit in with the black community. I felt like the one black kid who everyone saw as an awkward tag-along. I felt like a nobody.
These past three semesters at Duke have taught me more about myself and the quality of true, genuine souls than the previous 18 years of my life. Still, to this day, I have those moments when I feel like I don’t fit in. But I also realize who I am, why I am special and how to appreciate others fully.
As time passed, my tears remained, but the number of people to wipe them away increased. My soul soon became intertwined with amazing individuals that I now call some of my closest friends. These friends imparted their wisdom and love to me. These acts of kindness gave me the courage to acknowledge and stay true to my role in God’s play. These acts of kindness allowed me to stop being shy and reach out to my brothers and sisters in the black community.
These acts of kindness began with the brothers of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., with my two other Musketeers from freshman year: Germay Sheferaw and Judner Attys. They gave me a family that I can depend on personally and academically. They were the first hands from the black community to shelter me and embrace who I am. They helped open the door to the black community.
The more talented and strong individuals I met within the black community, the deeper my understanding of the diversity of culture within that community. I also realized, however, that the black community can be ignorant of each other’s personal struggles and lacks a true understanding of one another. Last semester, this realization affected me to the point that I almost committed suicide twice. I had never felt so alone and depressed in my entire life. My family was my only motivation to live and brought me through. Additionally, my sessions at Counseling and Psychological Services helped me face my depression and fears, and I came out stronger than ever.
After last semester, I wanted to leave Duke and never return. I almost solidified the decision during Winter Break until I thought about my brothers. As cliché as this will sound, they and my love for my sisters in Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. were and remain the strongest reasons I stayed at Duke. They made me remember the richness at Duke that I would miss out on, from the people to the opportunities.
I share my stories because I hope that we, in the black community, can be more caring, open and intimate. As a very small community at Duke, we cannot afford to let trivial matters prevent us from learning more about one another. We face enough injustices and stereotypes without generating our own internal conflicts. We all face enough personal problems that we do not need our haven to diminish our peace and security.
The Black Student Alliance opened my eyes to just how much the black community needs a haven—how much we need to understand each other and support one another, how we have to realize that our diversity is the strongest and most beautiful part of our culture. Some of us tend to forget how deep the diaspora is in its beauty, culture and presence around the globe. We should remember that we have gathered from the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and South America, just to name a few. So we owe it to one another to appreciate, tolerate and understand the differences in the many cultures of the diaspora. The intimacy within our community can increase tremendously simply due to our attending and participating more in events, having more heart-to-heart conversations with one and other and showing support and kindness more often. We can destroy the hurtful, vicious atmosphere by placing judgment aside and extending empathetic ears and helping hands.
All these can bring us closer and make us stronger for one another and ourselves.
As the saying goes, “We live in a world where black culture is popular but black people are not.” We define black culture, and we must remember to expand our own minds if we hope to expand those of others. We must be open if we hope to open others to the black community. We must come together as one, in celebrating our accomplishments and in facing our obstacles across the globe.
Gerhard Steven Jr. is a Trinity sophomore. His column is the fifth installment in a semester-long series of biweekly columns written by members of the Black Student Alliance.