MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now we've heard from policymakers, we've heard from teachers, a journalist who's been following their stories. And we've also heard from you. You've been tweeting us your questions and comments but we could not do this program today without hearing from some of the people these issues touch the most. We're talking about the students. So we're joined now by two college students who've been thinking a lot about these issues. Elijah Miles is a first-year student at Morgan State University. Kashawn Campbell is starting up his second year at UC Berkeley. Welcome to you both. Thank you both so much for joining us. I'll just say congratulations on everything you've done so far.
ELIJAH MILES: Thank you, thank you for having me.
KASHAWN CAMPBELL: Thank you. Thank you for having me as well.
MARTIN: Kashawn, you were profiled recently in the LA Times. You grew up in South LA. You were a straight-A student there. You worked really hard to succeed despite the fact - I think things that a lot of people would consider obstacles. The LA Times profiled the fact that your transition to college was really tough. It was a really emotional story, a difficult story. And I could just ask you, briefly if you would, about what was the hardest thing about making that transition and what would you want people to learn from what happened to you?
CAMPBELL: I will say, the toughest part would be the fact that I felt like my reaching out to people for support was very complicated. Like I've kind of put myself in a bind, feeling, you know, I'm a man now, I need to do everything on my own, I'm going to do the best I can. And I just felt like, coming from high school, that that 4.6 GPA and being a salutatorian of my class was enough to prepare me for college and realize, like, I know exactly what I'm doing but that wasn't the case. So I've realized that I need to really utilize my resources and reach out for help when I need it and not be afraid to do that.
There's going to be times where I'm going to be struggling intensely and I have to realize, like, I can't do everything on my own, and that's one thing I would point out to people and give advice on is, use your resources. That's what college is for also. They're not there to just teach you, but they have - you have the opportunity to get tutoring if you need help in writing, go to your GSI's office hours or go to your instructor's office hours and really take time to speak with them because they can tell you something that you probably didn't realize. And everybody grades differently and supports you differently, whether it be a personal level or an academic level. So reaching out to those resources is essential to you being successful at college.
MARTIN: Let me just jump in briefly before we turn to Elijah. We started this program with the whole conversation about education and whether that's the civil rights issue of our time. And Kashawn I have to ask if you - do you think it is?
CAMPBELL: Yes, absolutely. I mean, coming from the area which I came from - I mean, high school pushing forth the college-going culture wasn't as in abundance as it could have been. And I realized, like, so many students have the expectation of - at least at my high school in particular - of just going to either a community college or just not setting very high standards for themselves. And I think it definitely plays a role and this being like the civil rights issue of our time.
We need to really push and let students know, like, you're more than that. You're more than a community college. I mean, there's nothing wrong with them, I mean, it's really a great opportunity to earn a trade and a skill but I feel like we should, you know, reach above the stars and try to find our true potential that's within. And I think it's beyond just, you know, saying oh, I just want to go to community college. No, you can do better than that.
MARTIN: Elijah, let's turn with you. You just graduated from high school but you have already become a YouTube sensation for a speech that you gave after your Teach for America internship this summer. I'll just play a short clip from that. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
MILES: I think kids get this mindset from everyone. When times is hard at home teachers will say, it's OK 'cause soon, you'll get out the hood. You'll go off to college. You know what I mean, and think about that. You won't have to ever come back here. They talked about my neighborhoods as if I was in hell, and the only way to get out of hell was through their education. This motivation to leave hell and get to the promised land is the reason why some will never come back.
MARTIN: So tell me more about that. You know, still on this whole question of whether education is the key to changing America, basically. Do think that it is? Or do you think that that's a bill of goods, Elijah?
MILES: I believe that education is the key to changing communities and changing America. If it's used correctly, I believe that if you just push kids in a direction and, like, promote advocacy for your own communities and use that education tool, like, to uplift and uplift them - make it full circle so that they turn back and uplift themselves.
MARTIN: It sounds like you're saying that, if you do not mind my helping you out a little bit here, it sounds to me like you're saying that education is - the message you're getting is education is just about yourself. When you feel that it should be about making the country better, the community better - not just about yourself, taking care of yourself. Is that right?
MILES: Yeah, exactly, exactly. I feel that education that I've experienced has been teaching me to not, like, well, except in middle-school, not change my community, not, like, try to help the people from my community. It's taught me that you should just think about yourself and the first chance you get to get out of neighborhoods or your low-income neighborhood, you should take it instead, like, I think education should be pushed - well, in low-income communities, should be pushed towards motivating those kids so that they feel empowered to change their communities and that's what really is going to fix a lot of the problems that's in low-income communities.
MARTIN: I've been asking a lot of our national leaders this question, you heard me ask Education Secretary Arne Duncan this question - if you could wave a wand and fix one thing, what would it be? So, Elijah, what would it be?
MILES: If I could wave a wand and fix one thing it would be drugs in neighborhoods, 'cause I feel like that it would be - well, yeah, it would be drugs in neighborhoods because I feel like drugs - drug, drug-dealing and drug-using takes a lot away from, like, the education part. Because kids in low-income communities they don't - they see hope on a nearest corner. So they look at the fast money and they're not around role models that are making money, like, the positive way. So they don't really believe in the whole education lane that this can lead me to success. You know what I mean?
MARTIN: I heard you, what you're saying. Kashawn, I have to give you the last question here. Same question to you, if you could wave a wand and make one thing different, particularly for a student who is like you?
CAMPBELL: Well, I would say, probably, wish that maybe parents can probably play more of a dominant role. I mean, I'm pretty sure there's families who definitely push their children to want to achieve and get higher education. But I think it's essential to make sure that the parents are definitely involved in the child's education because that is the defining moment for them to also be successful because when you have a family who's supporting you and then you have the teachers who're supporting you, that's like a holistic, you know, situation where everyone is going to be OK, as far as the kids go. And then they'll strive and think like, OK, my parents are telling me to do this, they're playing a factor. It's like I have the support system so I'm going to do well enough to thrive and want to achieve that higher education. So I believe it's very essential for parents to be involved.
MARTIN: All right, we have to leave it there for now. Stay in touch. Kashawn Campbell is a rising sophomore at UC Berkley, congratulations.
CAMPBELL: Thank you so much.
MARTIN: He joined us from the campus there. Elijah Miles is a first-year student at Morgan State University in Baltimore, congratulations to you, Elijah. He joined us from the studios there at member station WEAA. Thank you both, have a great semester, stay in touch. Send a card every now and again.
CAMPBELL: Sure thing, thank you.
MILES: Thank you, appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.