Courage Above All

With the help of OneGoal, a non-profit that aims to ensure equitable collegiate opportunities for all underrepresented students, my best friend and I applied and were accepted into the University of Illinois. We arrived in Urbana in the fall of 2011 and lived together as roommates throughout my Freshman year. While I became heavily involved in a part-time job and extracurricular activism, I saw that my friend’s grades were beginning to slide. Despite his best efforts to bring up his performance, he was ultimately told that he would not be a good fit for the University. I was disappointed that the school had not done more to help him, and viewed him as extra weight to be cut than as a struggling student who needed their support.

Shortly after he returned to Chicago, while I remained at college, he was shot and killed on the South Side. The disappointment I felt towards the University quickly became disappointment towards my myself. How could I spend so much time working as an advocate for justice and reform when I couldn’t do anything to help the person who needed me most? The shame became so unbearable that I left school altogether. When I did this, I had no idea whether or not I would return.

In my year of absence, I worked in Milwaukee and South Carolina. Both of these areas were heavily pro-Trump. The divide between the communities showed me how quickly fear could prevent progress. This understanding soon turned inward. I considered that my own fear, of returning to school and my work in advocacy, was reminiscent of the fear that I saw in these states. The way that I battled for advocacy in the lives of others was the same way that I could battle for myself. It became clear that courage wasn’t something I lacked simply because I was afraid, it was something that I could gain by fighting against that very fear.

I turned this trauma into motivation, and graduated with the help of the inspirational woman who would become my wife, Brittani. It was the first time that trauma threatened my pursuit of advocacy. As a community, we must understand that having a strong plan to reinvigorate our District is just a blueprint. This will not be a simple journey. There will be unexpected roadblocks, no matter how much we prepare. We will need courage, above all, for this movement to last for generations to come.

Robert Emmons