Office of Inclusive Excellence

Role Models and Mentors: Living King’s Dream

February 22, 2022

By Yvonne Thomas

While exploring the question of how my educational experience has been shaped by US society, I had to first define what MY US society looked like. I was a young Black girl growing up in the United States, but to understand my story, it’s important that you focus the lens on the state of California, and then define it even further to the roughly 30,000 people in Seaside where many of those citizens were Black, successful, and very educated.

During that era, the United States was a hotbed of racism, protests, wars, and inequality for minorities. We all have many vivid and painful memories of injustices that could easily have overwhelmed our lives and our futures. I was fortunate to be surrounded by so many positive Black role models growing up that it made it very difficult for me to expect anything but greatness for my future.

One of the most important things that I’ve learned in my lifetime is:

The people you surround yourself with have an immense influence over how you see yourself and who you eventually grow up to be.

The role models at home and in MY Seaside village included an unending source of successful Black people who set the bar very high.

College was a no brainer. Of course, I was going to college. 

It was a personal expectation from as far back as I can remember. I’m the youngest of 4 with an age gap of 10, 12, and 14 years between me and my siblings. When I was in elementary school, they were ALL in college.

School was never a chore for me, and I excelled in most classes which led to positive reinforcement from teachers and provided opportunities early on that made my educational pathway both challenging albeit somewhat unique. After an IQ test at the age of 9, I was admitted to the MPUSD Mentally Gifted Minors Program (MGM) and eventually graduated in the top 10 of my high school class.

Moving to Los Angeles and matriculating at the University of Southern California (USC) was an unexpected culture shock. The multi-million-dollar private university was surrounded by an impoverished neighborhood, and the not so subtle segregated, “separate but equal” environment prevailed on a campus that supported White fraternities and sororities living in fabulous houses on “The Row” when the closest Black frat house was miles away on Crenshaw Boulevard near the “hood.”

Such experiences can serve to overwhelm and discourage if you let them.  For me, it has always been important to focus more time and effort to empower and encourage.

It is vitally important to make sure that your village is a balanced one filled with elders and mentors that provide truthful wisdom but who also never underestimate the power of a dream. My dream is still being fulfilled because I’ve never lost the desire to learn. And knowledge will always keep you one step ahead of your detractors.