Office of Inclusive Excellence

On Circuitous Paths…Mentors Hold Lanterns

March 7, 2022

By Marcus D. Garrett

I suppose the seeds were planted early. Both of my parents attended San Francisco State University when I was a small child. Less than a decade after the student body, and some faculty there, cracked open higher education for people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and made ethnic studies an academic pursuit. I have traces of memories of that time, bundled in winter clothes and drowsing next to my mother, peering at the lecturing professor down at the well of the large classroom; happily taking in the sights of streams of people passing from the vantage point of the carrier strapped to my father’s back as he strode through campus. Neither of my parents would obtain a degree.

My path to graduate school, in a discipline I believe I was created for, was a circuitous one. The number of influential people along the way, I cannot count. Though a thread that started with the expansion of public education in California runs right through my life, I was fortunate to learn early how important a good mentor can be. It is an amazing gift when someone experienced decides to take an interest in your development. One of those for me was the self-titled, “angry, black, lesbian, with a Ph.D.,” Dr. Ekua Omosupe.

Like my parents, she was born in the deep south when Jim Crow was law. Like them, she found a way to California and was there, waiting for me at a Hispanic-serving community college nestled in the majority white, affluent town of Aptos. For me, after years of living and working in majority white spaces, Dr. Ekua felt like a bit of home that I hadn’t realized I’d been missing. Dr. Ekua is a poet, and officially, a professor of English. What she really teaches is a way to look at our society with a critical lens, to appreciate the ways that power and fear influence the stories our mainstream culture tells about itself. She introduced me to the long history of people outside of the political majority who have worked for the right to be involved in civic life, to speak their part in the story that the US is telling about itself. It was in her classes, informed by feminism and critical theory, that I really began to appreciate that the truth is not and never was absolute. The truth is too big for that. The best way to get as close as one can, is to learn to see truth through as many perspectives as possible.

I applied these lessons to my sociology curriculum at San Jose State and continue with this approach in social work here at CSUMB. This perspective has made my education more than a means to an end. What I know and what I learn informs my values and helps me to understand my place in this story of the United States, from whence we have come, and where we may still aspire to go.

Marcus D. Garrett is a Master of Social Work (MSW) Student