Black Excellence

By Kyla Thomas

“What if I fail? Oh, but what if you soar?”  No matter what generation you were born into, we all have a common denominator, the fear of failure.  Albert Einstein once said, “It takes seven positive influences to overcome one negative.”  Due to the social media craze, negative headlines are at our fingertips every second of the day.  Our future leaders, our youth are being victimized daily.  It is hard to offset the negative with positive when frequent Black Lives Matter hashtags display the harsh reality; we are still being judged by the color of our skin rather than the content of our character.  

It is critical for me to instill in my kids the paradigm in which I want them exposed.  We cannot sit back and expect the media to make positive influences available and widespread to our youth.  We must rise together to create the influences we want ingrained in their minds.  We must redefine the norm in our culture.  Perception is reality and therefore it is imperative that our next generation of leaders: our kids, grandkids, nephews, and nieces are exposed to headlines that portray black excellence.  For these reasons, I make it a priority to attend, along with my sons, high school and college graduations.  Graduations are a clear expression and a vivid reminder of the sacrifices our ancestors made to allow us the privilege to become educated. Graduations for me are synonymous with Black Excellence.

One of the most recent college graduations I attended was for Destini Goodly, a 22-year-old New Orleans native who represents black excellence.  Her mother has a Masters in Social Work and father has a Masters in Criminal Justice.  Destini made wise academic choices, just as her parents, as early as middle school.  From the selection of her friends, to the high school she would attend, to the activities she allowed to consume her time; they all aligned with her priorities and family values.  It is imperative our youth understand early on their character is composed of the people and things they spend the most time with. Bad company corrupts good character. Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further, it is only from standing on the shoulders of giants.”  It is extremely important to ensure our youth are surrounded with giants and people who resembles how they envision their future. 

Destini has a strong desire and passion for dance.  She danced for 12 years outside of school activities. From tap, ballet, pointe, jazz and hip hop; she cultivated her love of dance.  In parallel to her long-term career in dance, Destini attended Benjamin Franklin High School, one of New Orleans most distinguished schools known for its exceptional scholars.  She was inducted into the National Honor Society and graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2013. Destini took her academics and love of dance seriously.

Destini’s work ethic and academic achievements landed her a full ride (free tuition, housing, meal plan, and book voucher) to Howard University, a historically black university (HBCU), in Washington, D.C.  While at Howard aka “the mecca,” Destini continued to soar academically and socially.  She was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest and most prestigious honor society in the nation.  She was also a two-time recipient of Howard’s YAALI (Young African American Leadership Initiative) which allowed her the honor and privilege to travel outside the country to Ghana in May 2016 and South Africa in December 2016. Destini gained awareness of the historical, linguistic, political, social and economic issues countries in Africa face.  Exposure to travel and learning different cultures is one of the most impactful forms of education.  

As I headed to Destini Goodly graduation, there was a family of 20+ people deep waiting to board my flight.  Curious as to where such a large party would be flying, I asked one lady, “So are you guys headed to a family reunion?”  The lady responded with enthusiasm as if she was headed to see Michelle Obama.  “No, we are going to HOWARD UNIVERSITY to see my nephew Terrance graduate.  He is a pre-med major!”  I took a look at the entire family once more and noticed they had representation from what seemed to be the youngest to oldest member of their family.  I smiled deeply inside as if I knew Terrence and said with the same enthusiasm as the lady, “I’m going to see my godchild graduate from Howard and she too is a pre-med major.  Her name is Destini Goodly.  Make sure you yell for her and I will do the same for Terrence.”  Fighting back the tears that wanted to drop from my eyes, this lady and I bonded over the same love and admiration of black excellence.

Destini graduated Summa Cum Laude and landed yet another full ride; this time to medical school. Destini studied consistently long hard hours aside from her school curriculum for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test).  The highest possible score one can earn on the MCAT is a 528; Destini scored an astonishing 514.  Destini can attest there is no substitute for consistency combined with diligence and hard work.  In the words of Denzel Washington, “Without commitment, you will never start; without consistency, you will never finish.” 

Unsurprisingly, Destini was presented with a number of acceptance letters to medical schools across the United States.  She chose Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia.  When asked how she made her decision, her answer was simple. “I want to continue my Howard experience.”  She went on to say Howard instilled self-worth and confidence in her through their rigorous, African-American focused curriculum and by simply being surrounded by successful black people. “Howard provided an environment which was supportive of my goals and dreams and that helped with my achievements.  It also made me more comfortable with being myself and expressing my individuality.  I am a lot more comfortable with wearing my natural hair and the clothes I want to wear regardless of social stigmas.”

As parents and educators we sometime question whether HBCUs shelter our youth from the “real” world experiences.  Destini can attest firsthand that she gained something far more valuable than what the “real” world can ever provide.  She acquired self discovery.  Aside from self-worth and awareness, she gained a profound knowledge of our culture, history, as well as a global perspective of organizational and governmental structure and its impact to the black race. 

In closing, I would like to share snippets from the Valedictorian’s speech at Howard 2017 graduation.  This exceptional young man’s words resonated deep within me as he told his classmates, “This degree is a receipt, a record of the investment made in you by the hundreds that came before you…when you leave the mecca you leave with something more, something inevitable.  You leave with a swagger, an unmistakable sense of self, an entrenched understanding of your value and identity rooted in an appreciation for the meaning of an institution that intentionally creates black excellence…this degree is for the 15 million children living in poverty across the country and the billions living in destitution across the world….this degree is for all those who never had the opportunity to receive a Howard education because they were failed by their education system,  failed by their political system, failed by their economic systems and lapped up by their criminal justice systems…this degree is for all those who have been and will be victimized by this and any future presidential administration.”

His words were powerful and true.  Destini departs “the mecca” with the humility to serve.  As she continues her journey, she plans to be a change agent dealing directly with the disparities minorities face.  I say to anyone striving towards black excellence, do not let fear keep you from reaching your full potential.  Step outside of your comfort zone.  Obtaining success is no mystery.  Success leaves clues.  Learn from and follow the patterns and clues that successful people leave behind. 

Kyla Thomas has a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, MBA in Telecommunications Management, and recently completed Harvard Business School Executive Core Program in 2016 . She currently holds a Vice President title at Citigroup as a Global Solutions Engineer and technology strategic leader.  Aside from her professional accolades,  Kyla is wife, mother of two boys, and a huge advocate for women and education.  She enjoys running for meaningful charities, gardening, and reading books in her spare time.  Kyla just recently ran her first half marathon in support of She’s the First, which is a non-profit organization providing scholarships to girls in low-income countries who will be the first in their family to graduate from high school.