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I’ve heard it called a few things. Cycle breaking. Trailblazer. First generation student. Whatever you call it, if I was going to do it, I had to be first. I was watching the movie Hidden Figures, and there’s a scene where Mary Jackson, a black woman, petitions the court to attend classes at an all white school; at the judge’s bench she makes her case and says, “I have no choice but to be the first.” Her character is probably my favorite because of her moxie! That moment struck me because I realized that’s what was in me.

I was the first member of my family to want to go to college, and so I had to figure out what that was going to look like. There was no trail for me to follow. If I was going, I was going to have to find my own way. That included two jobs where I worked anywhere between 50-60 hours a week along with a full course load. If I was going to be first, that was going to be the cost. If you can understand the magnitude of that work load, you can see it was almost unbearable. It cost me, but I knew education was the key to everything I wanted.

If education wasn’t important, people wouldn’t have had to sit in at lunch counters or march for access to it. If education wasn’t important for success, it wouldn’t have been kept out of the hands of every minority in front of me who had to make their case in order to have the right to learn in ways that were really equal. There would have never been a Brown V. Topeka Board of Education. Remember that for all the people who say you can make it without education as you discount its importance. People bled and died so I could have access to the very thing that gives us all access to opportunities they dreamed of; remember them when you mock education.

If you’re going to be the first at something, know that not everyone will support it. There may be jealousy to contend with, or people may find ways to try to trip you up. Some people don’t want others to have what they don’t. Please don’t let that discourage you. Whatever that thing is for you, go for it knowing that no matter what you do, those same people were going to find something wrong with it. Don’t let them hinder what you know you were meant to do.

Now that I’ve been the first, those steps I took can empower others to know they can too. I hope it inspires my children to see me receive another round of degrees next weekend. I hope them seeing momma get hooded and handed a diploma is something they can look back on someday to know that whatever their thing is, it can be accomplished. The things that are most worth it have the highest cost.

Find the thing you want the most and pay the cost to open the doors you know you want to walk through, and do them with every bit of excellence in you. Be sure to prop those doors open for others on your way through. Be the first. Somebody has to be.

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