Charlie Cy

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Class Year: 
2016
Area of Study: 
African American Studies, Sub-concentration in Political Science, Pre-Law
Student Status: 
Undergraduate alumni

I was born in the bluegrass hills of Kentucky and raised in Richmond, Virginia, the once Capital of the Confederacy. By design as a wild and ignorant young man in my early twenties I chose to move across the country to the left coast in an attempt to both escape the chasms of my Southern identity, while chasing idyllic dreams of a more egalitarian society in California. But, I would soon come to find I could not so easily run away from our shared past, ever busily influencing our shared present. It was as if a siren was calling me to return to the geographic place and ideological perspective I had tried but failed to leave behind in the rear view mirror. 

Five years ago I set out from my home in San Francisco, where I had lived off-and-on for almost a decade, to take a three-month-long roadtrip through the Deep South. What began as a languid summer sojourn led to an unforgettable crossroads; a crossroads where race, class and capital intersected. In town after town I witnessed first-hand a flood of both structural and folk forms of prejudice, as well as a degree of economic inequality that deeply disturbed me and directly challenged my priorities and complacency. Albeit, these various expressions were not surprising per se; they were in fact the all-too-commonplace symptoms of a cancer this nation has been plagued by since its infancy. Symptoms I was very familiar with, but symptoms I had allowed my mind to obfuscate while in search of my own individualistic, capitalistic dreams. But something about this journey jarred my disconnected familiarity and casual lifestyle, ushering in a level of consciousness I could no longer ignore. 

At the time various topical events also proved to be crucial factors that further influenced my psyche both out on the road and in the subsequent months I would spend reflecting and soul-searching for answers to the question, “What do I do next?” The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the murder of Trayvon Martin and the obstructionist climate in Washington D.C., fueled by the rise of the Tea Party, the “Birther Movement” and the overall gridlock instituted by Republican Congressional leadership that coalesced around the ascent of our first African-American president each played a role in my polarizing journey.

On the other hand, I was also taken aback by the physical beauty of the landscape, the rich and diverse cultures of my home region and the incredible charm of so many fellow Southerners I would meet along the way; they, who transcended the tired social constructions pigeonholing us as people into make-believe and superficial boxes of division; a compartmentalization and ideologically driven practice my former History of the South professor and acclaimed historian Barbara Fields terms Racecraft. It was an odyssey unlike any other I have ever taken that has served as the epiphany and prelude to a much longer personal journey on which I am still actively aboard; a journey that uprooted my future career plans as a budding sommelier and actor; a journey that compelled me to step back from the capitalist ledge in order to reassess my purpose and place; a journey that turned me towards earning a first-rate liberal arts education and joining those tirelessly fighting for a more just and equitable society.  

I am extremely grateful and humbled to highlight how this simple twist of fate afforded me the unparalleled opportunity as a non-traditional undergraduate student to earn my Bachelor's degree from within the Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS), founded by the late great scholar-activist Dr. Manning Marable. It has unequivocally been the most enlightening and rewarding experience of my life thus far, and one that will undoubtedly influence all of my future endeavors. In terms of the future, I am currently working on three interconnected fronts. One, I am applying to law schools for fall of 2017 admittance. Two, I am applying to various advocacy positions with organizations based in the South. And three, I am continuing to write a novel about my time out on the road. This is a piece of writing I began this past spring with my remarkable independent study adviser and Novels of Toni Morrison professor, former IRAAS director Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin. Ultimately, I aspire to become a civil rights attorney, activist and writer, and intend on helping to gather like-minded leaders of all stripes and political persuasions to help foster a grassroots, working-class Southern political coalition. My thought process is, if you can bridge the divides in the South, you can bridge the nation.