The Winning Essay
By Michael Tubbs
Grade Level 12
The first time I saw my father, he was chained. Gone was the mirage of the invincible man, the man who would protect me once I found him. At the age of twelve, I finally saw my father- in an orange jumpsuit, looking weak and vulnerable. The conversation with this stranger was cordial albeit distant. "How have you been?" "Good." "What's your favorite basketball team?" "The Lakers." Suddenly, the seemingly pleasant conversation took an abrupt turn as I could not resist the urge to ask, "Why are you in here?"
My grandmother's face flushed, but my father remained cool and collected. He looked me in my eyes and explained how the system was designed for him to go to prison. "Michael, the oppressor designs the world in a way so that prison is your destiny. From birth you are set up to fail. I decided to comply and give 'the man' what he wants." As I contemplated what he said he continued, "You're a black man in America, and it's either prison or death."
Leaving Kern County Prison, I resolved that I would not be another statistic. I decided that I would defy expectations, be it those put on me by society, race, socio-economic status, or my father. To this day, my father's scapegoat mentality has motivated me to be the master of my own fate and expand my options beyond those of prison and death. I have refused to allow my mind to be imprisoned by the "soft bigotry of low expectations" and have drawn on my father's example for the courage to be the anti-stereotype. The conversation with my father awakened a desire to prove not only to him but to myself that, with God, all things are possible. With every accomplishment, I have provided a counter-example to my father's assertions. Each passing year, in which I have not gotten in trouble, I have illustrated to him that there are options for black males to be successful. Instead of taking the "easy" road that my father has taken, and succumb to urban nihilism, I have decided to change my life and chosen to "take the road less traveled and that has made all the difference."
Because of my father's imprisonment, my mother has also played an instrumental role in my desire to change my own life. Watching how she overcomes obstacles gives me the confidence to not only dream, but strive to attain those dreams. One conversation with my mother in particular exemplifies how she has motivated me to achieve success.
As I entered the house, I heard anguished moans coming from my mother's bedroom. Immediately, I ventured there and saw my mom crying. Thoughts flashed through my head-Did she not get the much needed promotion? No, that couldn't be possible, she said that she had interviewed well! Before I could ask, Mom explained that she had been denied a promotion for the third time. "Did they give a reason why?" I asked. "The same reason: because I don't have my AA degree." As I held my mom in a tight embrace, I could not help but feel at fault for her maybe inability to advance. After all, if she had not made the choice to have me, she might have gone to college. Before I could apologize, she said "Make sure you get your education. Do not allow yourself to be limited. I'd rather you promise that than apologize." Solemnly, I promised.
My father is incarcerated and my mother had me at sixteen, yet they have taught me many lessons and are responsible for my successes. Learning from their examples, I have become a leader in my community and have striven for academic excellence. My father's grim prophecy has not come true, rather it has led me to assume the responsibility of chairman of the Youth Advisory Commission, presidency of Franklin's Student Body and Black Student Union, and the title of California Youth Ambassador. In addition, my mother's frustration at being limited has motivated me to succeed with a 4.4 and top 4 percent class rank in the rigorous International Baccalaureate program.
I have refused to let my background discourage me from aspiring for greatness- it has been a catalyst in my desire to change my life. Because of my parents' mistakes, I am a success. My father has taught me not to succumb to nihilism and my mother has taught me the value of hard work and determination. Their examples have caused me to rise, like a phoenix, from the ashes of race, single parent hood, low expectations and socio-economic status. As I begin my flight, it is from their examples that I have gleamed the courage and resolve to change my own life.
Michael Tubbs’ essay “How I Changed My Own Life” shows how important and necessary it is that we learn from everything that happens to us, whether “good” or “bad.” The most inevitable activity on earth is learning, and we can begin to do that by using our own parents as models of what we would like to do or not do as we become adults. It is a strong, solid, thoughtful essay, in which Michael’s determination to learn form his parents’ attitudes, failures, weaknesses and strengths, permits him to dream toward, and strive for, a world of possibilities the two of them could barely imagine. It has won the contest because it exemplifies what The Color Purple is about: the belief that each of us has an indomitable spirit within us that we can trust to carry us through perils even more terrifying than the systems of domination – whether by race, gender, class or other – set in place to keep us down. That we own our own souls and are therefore offered the freedom to choose dignity and self-respect, which, happily chosen, gives us the courage to live our own lives. And, what is more, to cherish and enjoy them!
Semi-finalists were Casey Brydon (12th grade, Berkeley High), Kylie Carera (8th grade, Ecole Bilingue), Marilyn Chao (Skyline High School), Natasha Lowery (9th grade, Ecole Bilingue), Desiree Myers (12th grade, Margaret J. Kemp Camp for Girls), Theo Rossi (10th grader, Las Lomas High School), Brittany Sims (12th grade, Berkeley High School), Makayla Williams (7th grade, American Indian Public Charter School) and Neal Williams (10th grade, Las Lomas High).