More Than a Color
“How come you don’t act black?” I’ve faced these negative stereotypes about black people and African Americans alike since my freshmen year in high school. I attended two Jesuit schools during my four years of high school, Brophy in Phoenix and Loyola High School in Los Angeles. Even though I fit the stereotype as the ‘black basketball player’ standing tall at 6’4, my attitude, characteristics, and actions never seemed appropriate to my peers. When I moved to Loyola High School in Los Angeles, I was even called “Oreo” by other black kids, which means black on the outside and white on the inside, because I was from a kinder background in my hometown of Mesa, Arizona. I remember kids saying that I don’t speak like black people or act like my black peers just because I didn’t slur my speech like them, talk derogatorily about the opposite sex, and “act tough”. Basically, I didn’t fit into the black culture that was considered popular by my peers. However, through the racial slurs and the stereotypes I reached an awakening, I wasn’t just “black” or “African American”, I was a diverse and unique human being, who was able to embrace being black while at the same time move in a direction that suited my interests and strengths.
My parents were born and raised in Nigeria. They came to the United States when they were 20 years old. They struggled tremendously to make it on their own without any parental assistance; they both managed to earn college degrees and move to Arizona to raise my brother and me. My loving parents’ goal was to make sure my brother and I received the best possible education from kindergarten through college, so through blood, sweat, and tears they sacrificed to make sure we attended Catholic elementary schools and Jesuit high schools. Sure I wasn’t raised having certain amenities like a phone, a car, or a computer, but my parents worked their hearts out so that I would gain a proper education, and the greatest gift I received from them, next to their love and devotion, was my Jesuit education.
I learned since freshmen year of high school about the Jesuit lessons of being a man for others and ad majorem Dei gloriam (AMDG), which means for the greater glory of God. Being a man for others means working not for my own glory or wealth, but working to help my community and those around me; I internalized the lesson that works done for others brings one a sense of satisfaction as well as showing to others the values that govern my life. I have taken this lesson into my heart and soul, and it has helped build my passion towards law. My burning aspiration is to become a lawyer and use the legal system in order to work for others to improve communities and help those who can’t afford top dollar lawyers. I believe that everyone has an inalienable right of access to the best possible lawyers, no matter how small their budget, and although this is purely an altruistic goal I will bring this to fruition with my law degree and give back as much as I can to the community in which I live. I also plan on starting an organization that helps pave the way for kids from low income families to have mentorship and guidance opportunities so that they can have an equal chance to go to law school or any graduate school just as I have been given the chance.
I’m proud of who I am even though it is true I’m not just “black” simply because my mind, body, and spirit is more rich and complex than any word might suggest. At the same time none of my traits individually, 6’4, black, Nigerian American, being a man for others, having a Jesuit background, define me. However, when I put all these traits together to create the man I am and hope to become, I form a unique, diverse package with passionate aspirations and a deep love of my fellow community. I am not simply “black”, but instead I am Michael Erike, future black lawyer, and a tall man for others.
My passion for thinking – for planning, creating, and executing – emerged from my participation in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program at Loyola Marymount University. I was fortunate to begin my involvement with the program as a freshman, and over the past four years I have developed a project from the ground up. In the beginning of the project, I was unable to connect my passion and participation to my commitment to attend law school, but over the years I have managed to do so. I now realize that the development of my research skills, my organization of a number of people, and my cultivation of a network of support are all virtues that will aid me in my journey through law school. I have also come to realize that, along with these important skills, I have been driven by a sense of discovery, by a sense of wonder which excites and motivates me each and every day.
I joined the Summer Undergraduate Research Program when I was a freshman. I was anxious to involve myself with something both exciting and challenging during the upcoming summer when I heard about the program and the challenges it posed. My then professor of Electrical Engineering, Dr. Barbara Marino, explained to me that the program was linked to universities across the country, making it possible for students from around the country to participate with one another. I learned that I could join an already-existing project, or I could take a risk and create my own. My professor encouraged me to take the risk and steered me in the right direction. I discovered that several seniors had created a solar panel system which contained a great deal of potential for someone who was committed and creative.
At this point my mind was dancing with ideas. I have always dreamed big and my goal in this project was to set the research program on fire. I wanted to make a mark. I generated an idea and a way of implementing an idea about how to test the efficiency of the seniors’ movable solar panels against the efficiency of stationary solar panels. The seniors had developed their project in such a way that “it was concluded that the Sun Tracking System has an improved energy performance of 2.217kWh when compared to a static panel of the same wattage.” The senior engineers, however, were limited to one day of testing so we undertook a more rigorous set of tests along with an effort to determine whether or not the solar panel system should be installed at Loyola itself.
To complete my project I recruited four other people, including my own brother, who was a finance major and now a first year law school student. I recruited a second finance major, a biology major and a mechanical engineering major. I determined from the beginning that we would be more successful if we gathered a variety of perspectives; my team was also a bit more unique since each member happened to be African American. We worked diligently on the project and one day learned that it had been brought to the attention of Rae Linda Brown, the Associate Provost of Undergraduate Education. She offered our team the opportunity to present our research to the university’s Board of Trustees. So, in May 2014, I, along with my team, stood before the Board. It was interesting to present our material, while at the same time presenting the lives and interests of five African Americans who were committed to the life of the mind. My brother and I have since laughed at our manifest passion for research and referred to ourselves as solar hunters; I cultivated a passion for research and for communication.
Four years have now passed. I see in retrospect how my engagement with the program developed my dormant passion for intellectual inquiry, and the ways in which it has shaped my analytic skills. My participation in the program has laid the foundations and has prepared me for law school and all the rigor and challenge that it will present and it will allow me to aid and assist those who are in need of a passionate, committed lawyer.