Black EMU alumni host 'Young and Successful'

“Love” by Kendrick Lamar featuring Zacari boomed as the room filled with black Eastern Michigan University students. Four rows of chairs for attendees were placed in front of a long table in the front of the room with six nametags placed at the edge. The nametags read from left to right: Danielle Clair Simpson, Alex Simpson, Choi Portis, Nicole Brown, Nick Patterson, and Tanasia Morton. 

Each of the panelists made their way to their respected seats and looked out at the building crowd. 

Eastern Michigan University Black Alumni held “Young and Successful,” a panel discussion with EMU graduates, Monday, Oct. 16, to share their experiences as undergraduate students and where it has lead them now.

Finding the right path

Nick Patterson, a 2014 EMU graduate, said he knew he was going to study education in college once he graduated high school. He earned his degree in English and Language Arts and Writing as opposed to mathematics because it felt easier to him.

“I had some trouble running into the basic skills test, but I took it six times before I passed it,” he said. 

“It was the math that hung me up, and the last time I took it, I remember praying that if I’m supposed to be a teacher, I’m going to pass it. If not, I’m going to discover something new. So I passed it…and everything went well.”

Unlike Patterson, EMU alumnus Alex Simpson was admitted into the university with a plan that didn’t work in his favor.

“I came into the school as a pre-med major…that didn’t work for me, so then I was in the pre-law major, and that didn’t work for me,” Simpson said. 

“Ironically, I’m a lawyer now, but I hated the pre-law program.”

According to University of La Verne’s website, it is not likely for students to enjoy the majors they declare during admission. Fifty percent to 70 percent of students change their major at least once.

Bumps in the road

Besides college life, students often face other interfering factors that hinder their success– stress caused by trauma being one of them. According to John Hopkins University’s website, trauma highly threatens people’s physical and emotional well-being.

EMU graduate Nicole Brown didn’t know Michigan when she was attending the university. Brown was robbed in Detroit of her laptop that had all her work for finals week.

“My sister moved to downtown Detroit, and she was pregnant, so she was like, ‘bring me some chicken,’ then she wanted me to go to Sweetwater, and I’ve never been there before,” she said. “So I went there, ran inside, already ordered, came back out, my back window of my car was busted out, everything was gone all in like five minutes.”

Like Brown, Tanasia Morton, a 2017 EMU graduate was the second female African-American student body president in EMU’s history. With high expectations as a leader, she explained how her experience as president was much more rigorous than previous presidents. 

“I got hit with everything from like racist graffiti to athletics,” she said. 

“There would be times after the racist graffiti happened, I had to remind myself that even though I don’t agree with what happened that if this was a student, I represent that student as well.”

Danielle Clair Simpson also faced her own barrier. She earned her degree in journalism from EMU in 2009. However, she struggled to find a journalism related job after graduation. She was “a little mad at Eastern” after finding out Wayne State University required their students to do an internship depending on their major because she felt it would’ve helped her get a job right after college. She had worked minimum wage jobs to get by for a few months before she finally obtained her current position as a managing editor of two publications.

The destination

Alex Simpson started his law education career focusing on child welfare, but slowly developed an interest in business law. He is currently at Meijer based in Grand Rapids and supports the retail operations and the pharmacy. 

“Any of their contracts or any regulations they deal with inside the store, I work on those issues,” he said. “Not your traditional lawyer when you watch TV and see them go to court and things like that.”

EMU graduate, Choi Portis, had an undeclared major until a professor suggested a survey related to the law. She later graduated with a public law and government degree in 2008 and is currently an associational counsel for the city of Detroit Water and Sewage Department. 

Portis handles litigation for the department and supervises other attorneys in the office. She handles any government contracts and makes sure it has “[her] signature on it before it goes out the door.”

Walking the paved way

EMU junior and criminology major, Jaiquan Rodwell, attended the panel and learned that networking, being yourself, and being professional are important in the workforce. His goal is to be a probation officer for juveniles and “stir people younger than [him] to the right direction.”

According to the American Association of Medical Dosimetrists website, up to 80 percent of jobs are never advertised. Instead, they are filled by word-of-mouth. Whom you know and who knows you has become critical to job seeking.

Daryl Beatty, an EMU sophomore, hopes to obtain his doctoral degree and teach African-American students, but more specifically, teach and train employers how to get the best work out of themselves. After the panel, he learned about the amount of opportunities he has.

“I learned the essence of black excellence,” he said. 

“I saw future network opportunities…[and] what black people can do from a student to a professional level.”

“Young and Successful” is the first event of this year’s Black Homecoming Celebration week. Black Homecoming is Oct. 16 to Oct. 19. and is created to celebrate black culture on EMU’s campus. The week is filled with a variety of events including: A Seat at the Table, Eagles Love Trap Music, and Bodak Green Ball.


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