this week i have been thinking a lot about the concept of luck. certainly, most of us know that life is wrought with an amalgamation of inconsistencies. it tends to throw the largest wrench in your plans at the absolute worst time and then, consequently, some time later, you may feel that the world is at your feet. luck in life or lot in life? i cannot be sure. i do know that the roads, albeit treacherous or indulging, are meant to make you grow stronger, wiser, more driven, more passionate to be a better you than you once were. i currently work as a college counselor at a program that i once attended when i was a 5th and 6th grader called prep for prep. prep for prep is a program that, in essence, is designed to even the playing field of academia and the professional world for students from underrepresented groups by empowering them with the necessary tools, in terms of classroom resources, advocacy, leadership training, and networking. truth be told, when i was in the program, i was one of the 'lucky ones;' that is, i was one of the more privileged students in my contingent of classmates. in fact, until i entered the program, i had never had intimate interaction with anyone who was particularly 'unlucky.' i lived in a middle class/upper middle class neighborhood in queens and went to school with others who looked like me and breathed the same daily air that i did. we all lived in little brick houses, we got driven to each others houses for annual birthday blowouts, our parents chaperoned our dances and class trips and always had time to do so, and we always had allowance in our pockets to use to hang out after school with each other. lucky. i was lucky. and i fully realized the extent of that luck when i entered prep for prep.
i was never a clueless child. even as an elementary school student, politics and social justice were at the forefront of my brain. i staged the only walkout in the history of my elementary school, inspired by my hero at the time, malcolm x, and the recent movie made by spike lee about his life, as my 5th grade teacher denied me the right to free speech when i attempted to read the outrageous difference in definitions of 'white' and 'black' from the websters dictionary. i spent a lot of my extracurricular time writing speeches about the ways in which people ought to affect the wrong in the world and, when done with my pen, went out into the world, accompanied by my grandparents, of course, to do what i could as a 5th grader to back up my words with actions. still, nothing could prepare me for the prep experience. at prep, i met, for the first time, people who embodied all that i preached about. i met friends whose parents slept in vans, who collected change off of the streets to buy meals, who had restraining orders against their parents, who often had no heat or running water - i met friends who had no concept of the way i lived, in the same way that i had no concept of the way that they did. a beautiful and tragic dichotomy of learning for me. finally, i was in an academic environment that truly challenged me. the playing field was even. but i still had so much more than others and it infuriated me. why was this so? my friends were as smart, if not smarter, than i and deserved everything. they earned it. they worked hard for it. why didn't they have it? i grew angry while i was in the program, hardened to the realities of the world but, thankfully, still compelled to change them. in short, i was lucky and i needed to make that luck worthwhile.
at private school, i embraced any opportunity to continue to learn more about those different than i. this time, though, the majority of my peers were luckier than i. not all of them took the same, well-intentioned viewpoints that i had cultivated in the prep program. still, some of them did, a fact that helped me to acknowledge their luck and not be resentful of their own lot in life - they understood and appreciated their luck and worked hard to build that luck into the result of success. i, too, had begun to do the same. i wanted to prove that my luck, vis a vis my grandparents' hard work to give me everything i needed and their own 'luck' in being able to have the cards fall in the right place to make it happen, was becoming the result of success. i began spending my summers at the end of my private school career and while in college working as an english and writing teacher at the prep program. each summer, i met more and more students like those with whom i had attended the program as a student. as the harsh economic climate increased with the years, so did the students who seemed to be 'without luck.' new york and furthermore, world racial and socioecomic politics grew more and more complicated and, so did the situations of my students. i went home at the end of each work day feeling similarly to how i felt as a prep student - angered, hardened, compelled.
the fact is that many people in this world work hard and breathe the drive and passion to succeed and do not always achieve. the world, in this way, is still set up in a tragic dichotomy - those with luck and those without it. as a college counselor, i meet with students and families who do everything right, and have done so for the entire 6 or so years since they first entered the prep program, most of the times since birth even, and, in the end, still end up not attending their school of choice, or not receiving enough financial aid, or not getting accepted into any schools at all. is it fair to say that there is something more that these students could have done? i can only explain their sheer and utter perserverance through adversity, only to be met at the end with disappointment, by a lack of 'luck.' this still, is a complicated concept for me, because to have been in the program to begin with is a form of 'luck.' furthermore, to have attended a prestigious private school is 'luck,' as well. can luck be combined with achievement? there are several students who do not make it through the program for varying circumstances. can they be considered 'unlucky' or ought they to be considered as failing to achieve the dream? i think that it is too complex to pinpoint.
either way, i look at my students everyday and realize that i am very lucky. i am lucky to have led the life that i have led so far, i am lucky to have met the people who i have met. i have learned from all of my experiences and all of the people that i am friends with, am no longer acquainted with, that i have dated, that i have heard speak. my character builds from their spirits and their life stories. i have taken my luck and tried to help others to realize the levels of luck that they have in their own lives and to build off of them. in truth, there is not one single person who is wholly unlucky. everyone has a semblance of luck in their lives - a person, a place, a thing, a moment in time that proved to be intoxicating. where luck translates into success is when a person acknowledges their individualized luck and finds ways to empower themselves from that core and construct a world where they can believe that things don't just happen - they are created, and that is the power of the human spirit. there is always someone in the world who has it worse than you do. be grateful for what you have. be lucky to have it. and show it in a way that is proactive and engaging. it makes luck hold little to no weight, as luck becomes a fond memory that winds its way into a philosophy on life.