Why you should care
Because a little support can go a long way.
While my journey was unlikely, more young people would have stories like mine if our country invested more in providing opportunities for young people in under-resourced communities.
I am not special. This is not a heroic tale of a Black man who “made it out of the hood.” My perceived success was not from might; instead, it was opportunities that people and institutions have created that allow me to write to you today. Growing up in Kumasi, Ghana, I knew as a child that I wanted to attend college because neither my mother nor my father had the resources to finish secondary school. My first opportunity came when my parents brought us to the United States in search of the American Dream. Despite our ambitious goals, we knew that the road from our home in Kumasi to the life we wanted would take hard work and perseverance. In middle school and high school, I was fortunate to have teachers and guidance counselors who saw my passion for learning and invested in me. Although the schools lacked resources, the counselors found programs aimed at decreasing these inequities.
The most influential program by far was the Fellowship Initiative, a program created by JPMorgan Chase & Co. in 2010 to prepare young men of color for college and career success. In my high school, Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics, we had one guidance counselor per class — and each class had more than 500 students. The counselor assigned to my class took the time to advise me and suggested that I apply to TFI to further my college ambitions. What I gained, though, went beyond my expectations, and ultimately led me to attend Colby College in Maine. Through TFI, I became a part of a new community of optimistic young leaders who shared my story. I also developed relationships with mentors who became professional role models and champions of my growth for almost a decade. Through TFI, I was able to realize my ambitions, and became a Gates Millennium Scholar and a Posse Scholar.
I see TFI as having a two-pronged mission. First, it helped us develop as men of color in a global world. We became comfortable with being uncomfortable. As part of the program, we spent our Saturdays attending classes in JPMorgan Chase’s offices and our summers building new skills. We were constantly moving between cultures, from our neighborhoods in the Bronx, Harlem and Crown Heights to JPMorgan Chase’s headquarters on Park Avenue. The other important priority was to prepare us for college and career success.
TFI also gave me two great mentors. One was close to my age, so he offered me a glimpse as to what my immediate postcollege future could be like. My second mentor was more of a father figure. He had been with the firm for 25 years, and like me, he had to overcome adversity. That really inspired me to keep going. He allowed me to make mistakes but guided me through the obstacles. Eight years later, I’m working alongside him. Every young person deserves to have a mentor like I did, but only about a third of low-income youth do.
Now that I work at JPMorgan Chase, I look forward to creating opportunities for more young people from low-income neighborhoods and providing support for other young men of color. While I work hard and strive to learn and grow, I also know that luck has played a role in my success. My guidance counselor could have recommended another student for TFI, or the program could have selected another student. There are millions of young people who have stories like mine who also deserve a chance to make it.