I recently graduated from Morgan State University where I’ve encountered many talented peers. I hear their music, I’ve read their writings, I’ve seen them clock long hours completing projects, I’ve seen them win races, I’ve seen them climb scaffolding to get the perfect photo, I’ve seen them hone their craft time and time again on and off campus, I’ve seen them combine their hearts, talents, uniqueness and beauty into what they do and what they dream of doing. And what I want to see is all of us succeed.
When we slam against a barrier to career success… or a career, we’re told, “It’s who you know.” Apparently the world runs on nepotism and favors. To get your foot in the door you need to know someone on the inside to unlock it for you. So what does this mean for those who don’t know people on the inside? Are we doomed to struggle until we’ve clawed our way up to success, bloodied and bruised from being kicked about then ignored by those at the top? And when we do get our feet in the door, do we have to put up with rankism and prove ourselves to those who decide to make it tough for us under the guise of preparing us for the “real world” ?
Hell-to-the-NO. Time for a new M.O. Our apathetic generation is finally rallying to stand up for themselves. It was the youth who came out in Arab nations to demand democracy. It is the youth who are gathering all across Europe to demand employment and a better future. (Read more here)
I’m ready for a revolution of mindset. If it’s about who we know, then I know many, many talented people, all of them hungry, like me, for success. Facebook, Twitter, we have hundreds of “friends” and “followers”. That is the power of our generation – a legion of friends, one click away.
What would happen if each of us committed to supporting and promoting each other? Someone needs a photographer: “Hey I know a couple of great photographers!” One friend wrote a screenplay, another is starting up a film production company, and yet another produces music… “Let me introduce you all!” Someone you know is starting up a website and needs help with content. You know someone who’s helped edit your essays – “I know just the person who can help you with that.” Christmas is coming and you want to give original gifts this year: “Oh my friend makes jewelry! Gotta hit her up.” Moved into a new place and the walls are bare: “I know this great artist!” …You get the picture.
Let’s stop passively being “friends” and “followers” and actively start looking out for each other. Let’s push each other up that ladder. In the words of science journalist Robert Krulwich to the Berkeley Journalism School graduating class of 2011:
“Instead, think about getting together with friends that you admire, or envy. Think about entrepreneuring. Think about NOT waiting for a company to call you up. Think about not giving your heart to a bunch of adults you don’t know. Think about horizontal loyalty. Think about turning to people you already know, who are your friends, or friends of their friends and making something that makes sense to you together, that is as beautiful or as true as you can make it… And maybe, for your generation, the Trojan Horse is what you’ve got, your talent, backed by a legion of friends. Not friends in high places. This is the era of Friends in Low Places. The ones you meet now, who will notice you, challenge you, work with you, and watch your back. Maybe they will be your strength.”
This is what I propose: a movement of Friends in Low Places committed to promoting and helping each other succeed. I propose friends share information, give each other feedback, strategize, brainstorm, challenge each other and make each other better. I propose that Friends in Low Places make it a point to celebrate each other’s achievements, without envy or backbiting, with a genuine brotherhood and sisterhood of friendship.
Then, when we achieve a measure of success, when we reach to our higher places, we reach back, and help those coming up behind us. Wave upon wave we can help each other along, closing the gap between the haves and have nots, never forgetting the low places we have come from.
Who is with me?
(Photographer Kalil KZak Zaky)