Discovering what’s beyond your comfort zone

As a second year student at Mizzou, I had a great experience. After a rocky start that could have ended my college journey, I was beginning to turn the corner academically, establishing the right supports and expanding my cultural horizons.

That year I was fortunate to move into College Park apartments (those were some good times) where I lived with four roommates. College can be a time to confront how you will treat the people who believe, look, and behave differently than you. The fact that for a short time you are forced to walk a journey alongside strangers makes this confrontation inevitable. Don’t get me wrong, in college we generally sorted ourselves by race and culture in the dining hall and other public places, but association was inevitable. In our apartment, we had a stint where there was a white guy, Ben From Mexico, Mo.; a Laotian guy, Joey from St. Louis ( we went to high school together); a bi-racial guy,  Nate (I don’t recall where he was from); and me, a guy born in East St. Louis and raised in north St. Louis city.

Our diverse experiences and values caused some conflict as we tried to operate together in our household. Practical things like cleaning common space areas, bathrooms and kitchens were often topics of turmoil. I was a chronic offender of the noise ordinance because I loved loud music. [Side note I grew up in the hip hop generation, and in fact, for most of my youth I was a part of a local St. Louis rap group. We were mostly positive with our messages. I had the same visions that some kids still have today: athletics, music or dealing were logical ways out. Thank the heavens for the route I took.] We also had discussions about race, culture and the biases that we all hold deep down. We were honest with each other. We were not afraid to have hard discussions. We didn’t take ourselves too seriously and at times agreed to disagree. We took to heart Muhammad Ali’s words that, “Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.”

I learned that so much of our biases were due to the fact that we came from completely different worlds, and it was easier to demonize the other because our worlds rarely collided. When you never encounter other people outside of your racial and intellectual clan, I am convinced that you deny yourself of something truly special. I came to know their hearts, and I was better for it. Changing the trajectory of our region requires us to be really brave and honest about our biases, and take steps to move outside of our comfort zones.

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