College Admissions Scandal: The Myth Of America’s Meritocracy

The American dream has always been promoted as being obtainable. Our literature, music, sports, business and personal success stories shared with the public has embodied this ethos for quite some time. The best and the brightest, rise to the top. The rare mark of genius is rewarded with praise and adoration. Only the most competent and capable who achieve what no one else can is deserving of all the luxuries that the world has to offer. No matter a person’s station in life, anyone can come to America and thrive. Anyone can rise from the ashes, become somebody and enrich the generations that follow. These messages have been sold and embedded into our subconscious whether we are fully aware or not, but now is the time to question why we have chosen to believe what has never been completely true.

In the wake of the college admissions scandal that broke last week, the veil has been lifted as the saying goes. Fifty people, all of them wealthy parents in various industries, were charged for using “back-door” methods to gain entry into America’s most elite universities.

Some of the methods included bribery, increasing time to take the SATs by falsely claiming non-existent disabilities, showing examples of athletic prowess by photo shopping faces on to the bodies of other student athletes and paying test proctors to correct wrong answers on the SATs.

William Singer, the owner of a college preparatory business based in Newport Beach, California, has been on the receiving end of criticism, considering how lucrative his business was at helping the children of the wealthy to bypass the traditional college admissions process. Wholesome actresses like Lori Laughlin and Felicity Huffman have been forced to bear the burden of being the faces of this scandal where they’ve been used as examples to show how some parents will do whatever it takes for their children to enter well-known, reputable institutions.

Why is there such a borderline fanaticism about attending schools like Harvard or Yale or Princeton? Other than a stellar education, what are the untouchable jewels that can be gained from attending Ivy League schools as opposed to any other academically esteemed school? As the college scandal unraveled over the next few days, it was discovered that Lori Laughlin’s daughter, Olivia Jade who was enrolled at USC, was on a yacht in the Bahamas with fellow USC student, Gianna Caruso, the daughter of Rick Caruso, the billionaire and chairman of USC’s Board of Trustees.

Buying your child’s way into a well-known college means more than just sharpening your skills in a particular field. It means having the opportunity to enter certain social circles that may have been difficult to penetrate otherwise. And being in these social circles means access to high-profile net worth individuals simply by associating with their offspring, then comes the job opportunities or notable internships that would be at one’s fingertips. Next would be the promotions and the money and the prestige of whatever position someone acquires as one climbs their way up the corporate ladder, with help of course. If you’re lazy, then it could just simply mean attending social functions to rub shoulders with other people of means. Who you know is just as important, if not more important than what you know and this fact has been made even more evident because of this scandal.

Sometimes working hard just isn’t enough when you aren’t born into privilege. The upper echelons of society will always be out of reach when there is a system in place that is easy to step around and that grants immediate access to those who are well off enough to just dangle money in exchange for admittance.

America has never had the rigid class system like that of England or France, so certain mores have persisted without being boldly stated. Increasing inequality and instability in American life has caused a degree of desperation where watching the rich commit such daring acts to get a head start is not being tolerated.

Maybe the message of hard work is something that needs to be told to the less fortunate to give hope; to inspire those with ambition but not the background to take action; and to fight for more through diligence and self-discipline. Because perhaps, it’s better to believe that there is a shiny pot of gold in the end after struggling through an obstacle course rather than to be told after losing a few times that the winner’s spot would’ve been a guarantee— if you simply knew about the short cut.

Morgan Reid completed her undergraduate degree at Temple University. She holds a Masters from Johns Hopkins University and lives in Baltimore City.

Julieanna Richardson: The Importance Of Preserving African-American History

Julieanna Richardson is the woman behind HistoryMakers, a Chicago based non-profit organization that houses an archival collection comprised of over 3,000 interviews, featuring African-Americans across various industries. She has quickly become an arduous force in maintaining records of prominent black innovators and trailblazers in American history with the creation of HistoryMakers.

The Harvard Law School alum is responsible for the documentation of the unknown, the forgotten and the misrepresented African-Americans who can now have their stories preserved for future reference.

Richardson’s passion for recording the most accomplished African-Americans began with questions she had as a young girl growing up in a small Ohio town. In the ninth grade, a teacher asked the class about their family background. This seemingly harmless question sparked feelings of shame and inadequacy.

“Identity is very important. If you don’t have it, there’s a sense of your roots being lost,” she pointed out. “I was embarrassed until recently. I was embarrassed about my enslaved heritage but I have a totally different view now.”

Instead of being defeated by this moment, she became curious.

The search to know more about the stories of people from the past who influenced the present brought a sense of urgency when she was an undergraduate student at Brandeis University.

“I would say going to a school like Brandeis, which is a Jewish university. I wanted what they had. They had pride in their history,” Richardson said.

Richardson first began interviewing the likes of Butterfly McQueen who appeared in Gone With the Wind; the historian John Henrik Clarke; and Honi Coles, the famous tap dancer. Although she garnered support from celebrities like Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee, Dionne Warwick, Diahann Carroll and Angela Davis to jumpstart HistoryMakers in its infancy, the biggest challenge for the organization has always been fundraising. Despite the challenge to raise money, HistoryMakers has fast become a valuable source for various institutions.

The HistoryMakers website has been the go-to website for individuals and well-known institutions. Well cited within Wikipedia, users have spanned the globe from the BBC to the University of Dublin where a student conducted research on police brutality. The value of having HistoryMakers as a resource to gain access to black history is vital, considering the way people consume information in the current digital age.

“Gone are the days where kids in the 1930s would listen to the fireside chats and their imagination would take them places. You have to have a visual to go along with the story for the story to come alive,” she said.

HistoryMakers offering the visual experience has extended to the “Evening With” series. This program serves as a reminder to the African-American community and the general public of the progress black people have made.

One such trailblazer featured on the Evening With program who discusses his life and career path is Kenneth Chenault, the former CEO of American Express. He discussed the obstacles he faced while guiding the company through many crises, such as the 9/11 attacks, the 2008 financial collapse and losing Costco as a client.

Chenault’s leadership skills and his tenacity makes him worthy of acknowledgement, especially as an African-American man in corporate America who has risen to the top through hard work and a natural charisma that very few possess.

“He is incredibly gifted at business,” Richardson emphasizes. “You don’t stay that long and have that good of a reputation. There are so many things that can take a CEO down. The average stay is five to ten years. He was there for seventeen.”

BusinessMakers is an important segment of HistoryMakers because of the negative perception of African-Americans in business, which leans toward the prevailing thought that African-Americans are irrelevant where it concerns dynamic business innovation and influence.

“We have to change the perception that we just arrived at the table. We’ve been here,” she said.

With the unrelenting focus, success and output of HistoryMakers, there is always the looming question of the true intent behind this massive undertaking. Of course, there was a personal obligation on Richardson’s behalf and a sense of responsibility initially felt, which all stemmed from a single childhood moment.

“I don’t want any child, ever, to feel the way I felt in that classroom,” she said. “If the records informs generations and shows the depth and extent of our contributions to society then I would’ve done good. It will all be worth it.”

Documentary Explores Mental Health In Young Adults

Recently, Saint Demetrios Church in Parkville screened, “Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety,” a fifty-six minute IndieFlix documentary about pre-adolescent and adolescent anxiety.

The film follows multiple teenagers who discuss their experiences with anxiety, what causes their anxiety to surface and the various ways it can trigger certain behavior.

What can be deduced from this film is that peer pressure, high expectations set in both school and at home, as well as constantly worrying can trigger anxiety attacks. From third graders having pre-mature worries about getting into college because of intense academic com- petition to high school students who distance themselves from social activities, anxiety clearly has the ability to effect behavior.

The film touches on how anxiety can escalate to having a panic attack where the body has an uncontrollable physical response— heart racing, body shaking and chronic abdominal pain are a few of the symptoms. Fear paralyzes them and can be tied to feelings of inadequacy.

Exposure therapy is mentioned as being one of the methods to help cope with anxiety. Breathing techniques, journaling, listening to a clock in a quiet room or focusing really closely on a memory are all exercises to help with mental health.

Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympic swimmer, appears in the documentary. He recounts his personal experience with anxiety and his battle with constant negative thoughts about feelings of not wanting to be alive. A highly competitive professional athlete sharing his struggles supports the overarching message of this documentary, which is to highlight the severity of mental health issues, as well as lend the opinion that anyone with this illness isn’t alone.

What viewers can take away from this documentary is that mental health has the ability to affect anyone at any age.

Those who attended this screening were mostly parents and their school-aged children. In a time when we are more connected than ever before, the pressure to achieve and live up to a certain ideal has been felt the most among millenials.

The social media climate of constant comparison and being inundated with aspirational images on various platforms wields feelings of inadequacy. Perhaps, the subconscious strain to always “perform” well and to be an extroverted social being causes the most angst, as well as the thought of never being able to measure up.

The conversation surrounding mental health among young adults has become more open for public discussion. A documentary such as this one serves as a reminder that anxiety is a serious condition that should not be handled lightly. This illness can effect anyone at any age and no person should have to suffer in silence.

By comparison, it is simply unrealistic to think that happiness is an emotion that can be felt every minute of the day but perhaps reaching a state of equilibrium and allowing room for occasional shifts in mood is what most people can strive for.

It’s okay for a person to have feelings no matter how good or bad they may be. However, lingering feelings of doubt, fear and worry need proper care and attention because if these feelings persist, the outcome could be fatal.

Morgan Reid completed her undergraduate degree at Temple University. She holds a Masters from Johns Hopkins University and lives in Baltimore, MD.

Could The “Yellow Vest” Movement Inspire Americans?

Across the Atlantic, tempers spilled onto the Paris streets. The carbon tax, implemented to help curb climate change, resulted in thousands of demonstrators marching from the outer provinces to the nation’s capital for the past few weeks to protest the policies of President Emmanuel Macron. The former investment banker has been accused of being out of touch and a “president for the rich.”

The growing disapproval of Macron coupled with the policies he has passed during his first year in office has consequently sparked a bitter rage, which escalated to violence. A crowd wearing neon yellow jackets, referring to themselves as gilets jaunes, vandalized the Arc de Triomphe, one of France’s famous monuments as a show of outrage. Many more barged down the streets chanting and jeering, all while law enforcement used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd.

After nearly a month of protests, Macron did his best to quell the anger with a formal televised announcement in which he communicated that the fuel tax would be eradicated. In addition, he promised to increase the salary to one hundred euros a month for minimum wage workers and cancel the social security tax at the beginning of next year. Despite all these promises, the protests persisted. The Yellow Vest movement became more than just an angry battle cry denouncing the fuel tax, but also an opportunity to express the frustration concerning low wages, unemployment and widening inequality.

The rise of the Yellow Vest movement has come to represent the dwindling middle class and working class who feel shut out and ignored. The lack of social and economic mobility has left many to question the future. The French are no stranger to revolts but such an alarming and vitriolic response could be viewed as completely unexpected, or just an inevitable reaction to feeling unheard by a president who championed social reform, as well as a snail-like pace to change.

Much of what has occurred in France over the past few weeks mirrors a number of political issues that have plagued American citizens since the 2008 financial crisis. Unemployment, stagnant wages, high costs for health insurance and crippling student loan debt are all economic barriers that have led to a subpar standard of living. A study led by Stanford University professor, Rej Chetty, revealed that millennials will be the generation that won’t earn more than their parents, but yet there hasn’t been a movement addressing the financial strain many young adults experience.

Could and should Americans protest the subpar social and financial institutions that have been a part of our DNA for so long that we fail to question them? Have we become complacent? Have we adopted a self-defeatist attitude where we reluctantly accept the inequalities that hinder our path to living fulfilling lives?

Many would say that violence isn’t the answer; Some would say violence is an acceptable form of rage without direction that submits— without thought— to the most primal aspects of our being. Maybe violence is the last resort for those living on the fringes of societyin dire circumstances who have felt silenced and shut out for so long that there isn’t much left to do but scream.

What can be gained from this level of free-flowing rage?

Within the past year, protests to reform gun control laws, protests against the U.S. National Anthem, the MeToo movement and marches for better treatment of illegal immigrants have dominated the media. Although any kind of organization against the injustices of society is necessary, one can argue that it has become much easier to address identity issues and issues that pose an immediate physical threat as opposed to demanding the government change policies that surely control one’s choice between having a successful career versus working at a minimum wage job.

In a time where a white picket fence, an evenly cut lawn and a picture-perfect family have become difficult to achieve and afford, as well as a stable job spanning decades is rare to come by, when will our anger and resentment spill onto the streets?

The power behind the Yellow Vest movement lies in the people, and perhaps Americans may follow their example. No person should have to accept policies that work against their own livelihood or face the hindrances preventing the natural progression of achieving life milestones. Anger and rage should re-surface when basic necessities are too expensive to afford, whether it be fuel, affordable healthcare costs or the pursuit of higher education.

Sometimes, debilitating fury is all that is left, and it may only be a matter of time before Americans finally realize that they can demand more.

Morgan Reid completed her under-graduate degree at Temple University. She holds a masters from Johns Hopkins University and lives in Baltimore, MD.

Book Review: The Hate U Give

— Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give is a young adult novel that fully speaks to the sense of confusion, rage and powerlessness in the African-American community regarding police brutality and poverty, both symptoms of the racism that still exists in America.

Starr Carter, a young teen girl who lives in Garden Heights, a black neighborhood considered ‘the ghetto,’ rushes out of a party amid the sound of gunshots with her childhood friend, Khalil. While driving home from the party, Khalil is pulled over by a white police officer because of a broken taillight. What should have been a routine traffic ticket turned deadly when the police officer shoots Khalil in the back.

With high profile deaths of unarmed black men and women, which have gained national attention over recent years, it’s of no surprise that a novel such as this one has come along at precisely the right moment.

Throughout the novel, Starr wrestles with the burden of having to speak out about the death of her friend, while navigating a second world at a predominately white school, Williamson.

Despite providing commentary (albeit fictional) on a pressing, hot-button topic about the value of black lives, the novel’s colloquial writing style, constant references to 90s pop culture, and the obsession with material items such as Nike Jordans, cheapens as well as detracts from the overall message. It puts a reader unfamiliar with past and current pop culture, and the nuances of African-American vernacular at a disadvantage.

Raising awareness about police brutality and the mixed emotions that accompanies this issue, including respecting authority versus challenging the abuse of authority is clearly the novel’s main focus. The profanity, slang and conversational, matter-of-fact way that the author chooses to relay this message downplays the severity of the role that law enforcement plays in the lives of African-Americans. A younger reader might understand this particular writing style, which easily addresses issues in a blunt and direct way, but it simply lacks emotional depth.

Where Thomas succeeds is in Starr’s internal conflict and her struggle with how to identify in two different social environments. Garden Heights is a black ‘hood’ where the threat of gang violence is always close at hand. Starr is comfortable around people who look like her. She can be herself in Garden Heights while not having to explain her very

existence. Eventually, Starr has to emancipate herself from the mindset that being poor, and coming from ‘the hood’ is not good enough and is something to be ashamed of.

Around her non-black friends at Williamson, she adjusts her emotions, mannerisms and speech accordingly. There is a battle with how she thinks she is supposed to ‘behave’ around ‘others.’ Mastering the experience of being in two different worlds is a relatable obstacle, all too familiar to the average person of color who may find themselves in situations where being the only one, “the token,” and the representative of their race is unavoidable.

Thomas skillfully explores the mental strength it takes to live in a gang infested war-zone where dying is like falling and scraping your foot against a rock’s sharp edges. It’s inevitable if one isn’t too cautious or aware.

The sub-plot consists of a gang leader, King Lord, who reigns over Garden Heights threatening anyone who poses a threat to his drug operation with violence. The code of silence and the ‘no snitching’ policy is addressed in the plot as being problematic when it refers indirectly to protecting someone who is the main source of violence.

Even though gang violence is mentioned as a symptom of the cycle of poverty, it was all very cliché, predictable and obvious. We’ve heard it all before in various ways. It would be interesting to see more black writers stepping out of the gang, slave narrative and the dysfunctional family trauma storylines of black life.

If a recent or aspiring recruit of the Black Lives Matter movement, no matter the race, wants to understand the complex history the African-American community has with law enforcement in the United States, The Hate U Give is and appropriate starting point to gain some insight. It is fast-paced, funny and easy to devour with a few touching moments sprinkled in. It’s a novel of the times but a specific time nonetheless.

It is difficult to foresee if this story will have any lasting impact or true influence, which is truly unfortunate because the subject matter at hand could have been more compelling in the hands of a far more capable writer.

Trump’s Greatest Victory: Not over Clinton but the Media

— It was Wednesday, November 9, 2016— the day after Election Day. I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and looked at my phone and saw that I had already received text after text expressing shock and disappointment. I had no time to fully process what had just occurred because, unfortunately, I had to get to work. I got dressed in a frenzied state, headed out the door and barely made it to Baltimore-Penn Station to catch the 7 a.m. MARC train to Washington D.C.

It was only after I was seated on the train, staring out the window at the fast changing scenery as the sun rose that I realized that the world hadn’t come to an end. Needless to say, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had that expectation when Donald Trump was declared the new President-elect.

In June 2015, when Donald Trump launched his campaign for the presidency as a Republican candidate, I burst into a fit of laughter. I thought that his campaigning for the most coveted and powerful position in the world was an act of senile delusion. I initially viewed it as a testament to the bravado, arrogance and spoiled desire to feed the large ego of a businessman who has found success many times over.

Trump, the real estate mogul with properties around the world, a reality television star and boisterous personality was now the opposing competitor to disrupt one half of a political dynasty— Hillary Clinton and a political establishment that could not stop this unforeseen force.

The campaign for the presidency was an assessment of character more than an assessment of the integral parts of policies to be be implemented, which would be advantageous to the average working American. It was a test of integrity, honesty and believability. For Clinton, the issue was the mishandling of classified information over a private email server. For Trump, it was his alarming divisive rhetoric about the harm of increased immigration and his blunt blows directed towards Mexicans, Muslims and African-Americans.

Unlike any other election that I’ve seen before, the media had no qualms in picking Hillary Clinton as the worthier of the two candidates despite her sudden change in stance on same-sex marriages, despite using a private e-mail server as Secretary of State, despite the accusations that the Clinton Foundation was being investigated for corruption, and despite her vote in favor of the Iraq War.

The New York Times, The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic and even Vogue magazine were unwavering in their support of Mrs. Clinton.

Trump didn’t have the same showing of public support, but instead experienced a bevy of attacks from the media that sought to taint his chances of being viewed as a viable candidate.

The New York Times conveniently posted an article on October 1, 2016, showing Donald Trump’s tax history of avoiding paying taxes for nearly two-decades, a loophole that could only be done by the one percent.

Additionally, a 2005 recording of a vulgar conversation between Donald Trump and “Access Hollywood’s” Billy Bush about sexual conquests was leaked. Despite the unsavory scandal and a seemingly low public opinion, it didn’t have any impact on Trump’s march to victory.

In a society, where access to information is readily available on multiple devices by the touch of a button, it’s interesting that the damning views continuously made by newspaper publications and television news anchors against the Donald Trump train did the opposite of what was intended.

Perhaps, what is more telling is that the media, no matter how hard it tried, could not override the desperate need for change, a different flavor, something unusual, something new.

To his benefit, Trump marketed himself as an outsider of sorts. Someone who can easily identify with the rage from unfulfilled promises made by politicians, the politically correct way of addressing issues on the surface, or the over-policing of world, whilst moving at a snail’s pace in making decisions to fix problems at home.

Donald Trump won in the end because of the ferocious points he made and his blunt way of communicating to the common man, which made him far more believable. Though contentious, he took a stand on what he believed in and could care less what anyone thought about it.

His rowdy approach to what could never be said beyond the confines of one’s own home was alluring to those who needed a change. He struck at the hearts of the working class and the middle-class whose frustrations were palpable in a transitioning economy where wages are stagnant while the cost-of-living continues to rise. Ironically, he marketed himself as being a filthy-rich businessman with nothing to lose.

What can be plainly said is, perhaps the media has little or no impact when bitterness lies within the masses for not seeing better outcomes in their day-to-day lives. The same ole’ same ole’ was just not going to do— not this time around.

Maybe, for once, the media can find a way to accept this loss and take into account that what they said just didn’t matter.

Morgan Reid is a graduate of Temple University with a B.A. in Film & Media Arts and English minor. Hailing from New York, Reid has gained experience working in the entertainment industry in both Philadelphia and Los Angeles. She currently works as a freelance writer in the Baltimore area.

When the past comes back to haunt you: The Nate Parker Story

To be young, gifted and black is a notable phrase wrought with many complications concerning the invisible glass ceiling considered difficult to break in a society where race and assumed perceptions of race are irrevocably interlinked.

“Birth of a Nation,” which marks Nate Parker’s directorial debut grants imagery to a story about a slave rebellion led by the then enslaved Nat Turner in 1831.

This is a story long overdue in Hollywood, which has been plagued with the issue of diversity for the past two years.

The movie made history in a bidding war at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and for which Fox Searchlight Pictures purchased for $17.5 million. Since then, there has been increasing interest in regards to Nate Parker’s past as is usually inevitable when doing work that garners attention and one chooses to bask in the limelight of being the star, writer, producer and director of a project.

Parker along with his friend, Jean Celestin (co-writer of Birth of a Nation), was accused of rape in 1999 when they were student athletes at Penn State University. Parker was ultimately found not guilty but Celestin was convicted. Celestin was later exonerated due to prior witnesses being too difficult to locate for a re-trial.

Parker and Celestin have gone on to have families and carve out careers in Hollywood, while the victim never fully recovered from the incident. She committed suicide in 2012.

An interview with Variety magazine where Parker voluntarily commented on his past sexual assault case has sparked outrage and questions concerning his moral character.

“Seventeen years ago, I experienced a very painful moment in my life,” said Parker. “It resulted in it being litigated. I was cleared of it. That’s that. Seventeen years later, I’m a filmmaker. I have a family. I have five beautiful daughters. I have a lovely wife. I get it.”

However, the question that should be asked currently is, what now? Now that his past is open to scrutiny, what do media outlets and potential moviegoers want from Nate Parker?

I doubt a confession of prior misdeeds would suffice, and it seems as though owning up to his misogynistic mindset as a 19-year-old involved in a sexual situation gone horribly wrong doesn’t seem to be winning anyone over either.

In a recent interview with Ebony magazine, when Parker was asked if he thought about the victim or the rape case he was involved in at any point over the last 17 years. He responded, “No, I had not. I hadn’t thought about it at all.” And here is where the problem may lie.

The problem may lie with not being able to suspend disbelief long enough to separate Nate Parker the man from Nate Parker the artist. It has taken 17 years and a movie to promote for him to address, acknowledge and understand that his mentality towards women and consent was selfish as well as destructive.

The timing for clarity, unfortunately for him is all too convenient and disingenuous. The lack of awareness and the ineptitude to see beyond himself conflicts with his interest in a story where a former slave rebelled against a white society that could not bring themselves to see the humanity in others.

Nate Parker will be making the media rounds to promote “Birth of a Nation,” which is in theaters on October 7, 2016. His campaign, come award season may be somewhat tainted, to say the least.

“Birth of a Nation” is a film that deserves its moment. However, many feel that Nate Parker is a questionable candidate to bring such a story to the silver screen. The failure to not anticipate the critique of one’s past despite overseeing a film about the past makes the short-lived positive attention in regards to the film feel bittersweet.

Parker should not be surprised that questions about race, sexual assault and the overall lack of concern shown towards violence against women will only intensify as award season in the film industry approaches. The questions will be complicated and hopefully bring attention to a much bigger conversation at hand— sex on college campuses throughout the United States.

America has evolved and so has what is now deemed appropriate behavior from boys and men. Blaming carefree unmonitored behavior on boyish youth, while exhibiting a lack of self-control is no longer acceptable.

What can be gleaned from this controversy is that one’s past is seemingly never truly erased no matter what is done afterwards for redemption. Innocence may be proven through loop-holes and technicalities exploited in a court of law but forgiveness is not so easily won when traumatic events may have played a part in destroying another person’s life resulting in their death.

Morgan Reid is a graduate of Temple University with a B.A. in Film & Media Arts and English minor. Hailing from New York, Reid has gained experience working in the entertainment industry in both Philadelphia and Los Angeles. She currently works as a freelance writer in the Baltimore area.