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Black Excellence 

Welcome to Black Excellence, my first "people driven" series that focuses on exploring the narratives of young Black college graduates and their experiences during their undergraduate careers. The aim of this personal project and series is to add positive, inspirational, insightful and enlightening stories to the sometimes stereotypical and negative outlook that the public can have for our brothers and sisters. 


I drew inspiration for this series after doing a graduation shoot with a friend of mine (who is pictured in the second row of this series) in an abandoned building in Untermeyer Park, Yonkers NY. As we're walking down the little path and are entering the small, torn down building, he says to me "This building reminds me of my college experience," and then we both laughed about it a few seconds later. However, it was something about that statement that stuck with me! It was something about that small comparison that made me want to explore other people's stories and what it was like for them while in college. So from this, I put out the word that I was looking for participants for my new series and within 2 months I was able to bring my visions to fruition. 

Hope you enjoy! 


Theme/Inspiration: Ethnic Pride, Representing Your Country

Michelle Castelle

1) What made you choose your major?

I majored in Psychology because I realized that mental illness was such a taboo topic in the Haitian community even though many of us suffer from it. 

2) What were some highlights of your college experience?

I studied abroad for a year in Paris and spent some of that time traveling to six different countries across Europe and North Africa. 

3) Discuss some of the obstacles in your college experience and describe how you were able to make it through them.

I’m a first generation college student and was nervous about navigating college but I was fortunate enough to meet Alice Augustine, the director of the Office of Prestigious Awards at Lehman College and she encouraged me to pursue opportunities (scholarships, assistantships etc) that I would’ve never dreamed of going for. 

4) What advice would you give to other young women (especially those of Haitian descent) about college? 

 I would tell them that it is okay to dream big and dream differently. If you feel like you are being called to do something other than the careers that are expected of you, explore it because us Zoe’s slay wherever we go. 

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Denzel Walters

1) What made you choose your major?

My major was Tv and Radio Production. I chose my major because I wanted to change what I seen on tv YouTube and mainly wordstar because it doesn’t depict a positive message. So I wanted to create positive content in the atmosphere.

2) What were some highlights of your college experience?

One of my highlights in college is definitely when my friend let me walk around campus with his camera just to see what I would come back with to see how dope my mind worked. And my internship because it started my mind up and got the gears in my mind turning and steered me in the right direction.

3) Discuss some of the obstacles in your college experience and describe how you were able to make it through them.

Obstacles in college was honestly waking up for classes. But I had to do it because my teachers in my junior and senior years had a lot of faith in me seen the vision and helped me bring my vision to life. I was also pretty sure I needed some references.

4) What advice would you give to other young men about college?

Definitely spend your first year feeling out college and make friends, because those friends can be your collegeues in the near future. Surround yourself with likeminded people because they’ll help you find out what you want to do and commit to it. Also hard work helps.

Theme/Inspiration: Triumph, Overcoming Obstacles

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Lisa Dazzell

Theme/Inspiration: Self Expression, Women Can Be Educated And Beautiful

1) What made you choose your major?

I recently earned a B.A. in Psychology and a B.A. in Africana Studies with a minor in Health Education and Promotion. During the summer before my senior year of high school, I decided to read an AMSCO Psychology textbook on my way to work. I was so intrigued with the concepts and information I learned from the book that I knew I wanted to major in Psychology in college. In the spring semester of my sophomore year I realized that I did not know much about my roots much less the history of people from the African diaspora. As a result, I challenged myself to double major in Psychology and Africana studies to make my love for the science of Psychology practical and applied within the Black community.

2) What were some highlights of your college experience?

Some of the highlights of my college experience was realizing that I want to major in Africana Studies and challenging myself to double major. Another highlight was my ability to travel to different states and countries throughout my undergraduate experience. In my Freshman and Sophomore year I went to Nicaragua and St. Andrew Jamaica, respectively, with Leman L.I.F.E. during spring break to volunteer. In the summer of my sophomore year I went to Bowling Green Kentucky to conduct research, as a result I went to Boston to present my findings. In my junior year, I went to the Dominican Republic for vacation. In my senior year I studied abroad in Morocco for 3 weeks where I traveled to Rabat, Marrakech, Fez, and Chefchaouen.When I came back home to NYC, my travels continued as I went to Austin, Texas, Ames, Iowa, South Beach, Miami, and San Francisco California. Through my travels, I recognize that traveling is absolutely necessary as it allows us to reevaluate our biases or previously held misconceptions about places, people, or groups. Travel also exposes us to the larger world around us.

3) Discuss some of the obstacles in your college experience and describe how you were able to make it through them. 

One of my biggest challenges was double majoring. I decided to major in Africana Studies at the end of my sophomore year so I had to take 7 classes (22 credits) while working 2/3 jobs, being in a fellowship and working at my internship. In my last year ,I traveled from Far Rockaway to the Bronx, a 4 hour plus commute each day to get to and from Lehman, while also taking 22 credits in the fall semester and working two jobs. To combat this challenge I worked on the train when I could, slept on it when I needed to, and I surrounded myself with friends, faculty, and professors who motivated me. I also took the time to relax when necessary. Another major challenge for me was having confidence in myself when applying to graduate schools. I developed a lot of anxiety while applying to schools because I didn’t believe I was good enough to be accepted into a PhD program. To combat this fear, I still applied and hoped for the best while continuing to surround myself with my support systems.

4) What advice would you give to other young women about college?

I would tell young women that there are so many opportunities in the CUNY system to receive free money, gain travel experience, be supported, and have your education and experience fund itself. By this I mean that there are programs such as the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) which will pay you to do research with a faculty mentor on campus. There are fellowships such as the NSF REU, which will pay you to do research for the year or the summer, fly you out to another state (all expenses paid), pay for you to attend a conference where you will present your work, pay for housing, and give you a stipend on top of that! There are opportunities like the Benjamin N. Gilman Scholarship Award that will fund your study abroad experience. There are also fellowships like America Needs You that will give you a stipend for two years to teach you professional etiquette. I know because I was fortunate enough to have been exposed to and taken part in all of these opportunities. 

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