Like a diamond formed by the weight of the Earth, I feel an immense pressure to perform as a student, a son, a father, a husband-to-be, and a young black man. The pressure of these roles could make or break a man and reveal to the world his true character – especially during the most desperate of times. I find it quite ironic that the most intense pressure has the power to create diamonds – a substance we hold so dear we buy them for our partners as a symbol of our love.
I learned from my parents to embrace hard times. My mother raised four children – mostly by herself and usually with her own philosophy: “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” It’s difficult to fathom how single mothers are able to consistently keep the lights on and the water hot. She taught me resilience and ingenuity.
My dad had his first child at the age of 19, soon followed by his second child at 20 years old, all while attending college. Over time, his own pressures forced him to take time off from school as he was also serving as a parental figure for myself and two other young children. However, he did not succumb to these pressures forever. My father returned to school, and though it took him seven years to acquire his master’s degree in childhood education, he overcame. He taught me persistence and responsibility – tools that would help me in my own journey.
My pressure began four years ago at the age of 19 when I decided to move off campus with my fiancé. Little did I know, the stress that came along with having my own apartment, such as working a job, attending classes, and being a partner, could be so challenging. None of those things became easier to bear once I discovered my fiancé was pregnant.
During the pregnancy it occurred to me that I must embrace the pressure and use these opportunities to improve myself for the wellbeing of my unborn son. Using my mother and father’s experiences as a resource, I was able to navigate academia as well as parenthood. It occurred to me that I must be the example of a man that my son can learn from – someone who can guide him through life. From that moment on, I longed to become the best version of myself – the best father, the best student, the best partner, and best worker. Instead of looking at my responsibilities as a deterrent, I view them as a catalyst.
More recently, my family has been dealing with a substantial amount of pressure. My oldest brother was involved in a near-fatal car accident this February that left him paralyzed from the chest down. Now paraplegic, he has been subjected to a wheelchair. This has taken a toll on us all – effectively redefining roles of every single family member to part-time caregivers. It has made my family assume roles that we never imagined. This is something we have all embraced head-on, including my brother. His dedication to physical therapy comes from his aspirations of walking and gaining independence. This misfortune merely serves as motivation – an indication of the power in pressure.
While this past school year was the most taxing, it was also the most successful year of my academic career. While serving 25-plus hours on weekends, I worked as an undergraduate researcher another 20 hours, amid taking 14 credit hours and serving as president to the Missouri Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (MOLSAMP) Scholars Biology Club.
Juggling these different responsibilities along with trying to be a good parent and partner made me value every moment of free time I had, which was often spent studying or finishing homework. I finished both semesters with personal highs for my GPA and presented at three national conferences. Through it all, I learned that I perform best under pressure, with my back against the wall and a deadline pending.
As graduate school approaches, my experiences will be vital in helping me to navigate through life, not to mention my academic career. You see, diamonds aren't solely valued for their perfect beauty. On the contrary, they are valued for their strength, rarity, and the intense pressure they must withstand during their creation.
Wesley Agee is finishing up his undergraduate studies at Harris-Stowe State University and is currently a Ronald E. McNair Scholar at Saint Louis University.
“Homegrown Black Males” is a partnership between HomeGrown STL at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis and The St. Louis American, edited by Sean Joe, Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor and associate dean at the Brown School, and Chris King, managing editor of The American, in memory of Michael Brown.