Through the years, I have achieved the most success when encouraged and surrounded by role models. This became apparent when I moved to Cameroon, West Africa from my home in the United States. As a first grader in the United States, I was placed in the slowest reading group at the recommendation of my teacher. At six I moved to my father's village in Cameroon and attended one of the best private schools in the country.
I quickly became one of the top students and maintained this position through my eight years of primary education. During my years at boarding school I endured the rigorous academic schedule of the British system. Taking 13 courses per semester, I became trilingual in English, French and my tribal dialect: Bali, all of which I still speak today. I received the most encouragement from my assigned big brother who had already faced the obstacles I was to face. One reason for my performance was the support of my village given to me and all my young black colleagues. We had high expectations for ourselves and reached each of them. However, war and a diminishing economy forced me to move back to my birthplace, the United States.
Upon my return, I was encouraged to repeat the eighth grade. This setback became my initiation to a society that portrays black males as uneducated gangbangers. Despite my records, the school administration believed I was too young to enter high school. My fellow students began to call me Will, although my birth name is Nyemgaga. They claimed they could not pronounce Nyema (my nickname) and, as they redefined me, I redefined myself. Arriving here as a young adolescent, I felt the need to fit into society. Soon, I began to wear my pants halfway down my waist and my own expectations began to lower as well. I made myself into the perfect stereotypical black juvenile, the same juvenile the media portrays. Unfortunately, if you stay in a costume too long, it begins to be what you are on the inside, as well as in the outside.
Today, through personal achievement (which I owe to my supportive family and church), I have managed to step out of my costume. I forced my teachers and friends to call me Nyema. I even took the time to explain the meaning of my name, which is "I did not ask to be king, but I am." I now sit in the front of my class, and both my pants and my expectations are higher.
The ammunition I use to fight the stereotypes is knowledge. The knowledge that has helped me most is African-American history. Knowing that I come from a lineage of strong brilliant ancestors has made me want to become a visible role model in my community. I want to continually dispel the negative stereotypes against black males. -
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.