GRCC Alumni Panel: Presidential Investiture 2017

GRCC Alumni Panel: Presidential Investiture 2017


>>Good morning, everybody.
>>(all) Good morning.
>>I’m Tatum, I’m
your Student Alliance
External Affairs
Director,
which is part of your
student government.
And welcome to the
GRCC Alumni panel.
I’d like to thank the GRCC staff
for setting up the room
and Creative Dining
for the refreshments,
the cookies and the
juices on your table.
Feel free to drink and eat
as much as you would like.
And I would like to
welcome the panelists.
If you guys would like
to introduce yourselves.
>>Sure.
My name is
Anthony Helmholdt.
I attended GRCC
between 2005 and 2009.
And yeah.
>>Hi, I’m Hilda
Martinez-Gutierrez
and I attended GRCC
from 2007 till 2010.
>>Good morning, my name
is Sammy A. Puebles.
And I attended GRCC
1995 through 1997.
>>Good morning, my
name is Denavvia Mojét
and I attended GRCC
between 2012 and 2015.
>>Okay, so we’ll
get started.
So this is
for everybody–
can you guys tell us about
your journey from GRCC
to where you
are now?
>>Sure, I’ll start– we
can just go down the line.
My journey from
GRCC to now,
it was quite an
interesting one.
I attended GRCC while working
full-time as an auto mechanic.
I was going to the automotive
technology program,
which is kind of a
separate campus,
but I also had a lot of classes
on the main campus as well.
During that time, I also
elected to take just courses
that I was interested in,
such as electronics,
CNC programming,
and welding.
And I used those skills
to actually kinda make
a physical resume– I
actually built and raced
an electric motorcycle
that I built in 2009.
That actually got me
a job at Tesla Motors
because of that invention
that I created, basically.
Because of that, I’ve
been working with Tesla
basically ever since
for seven years,
and now we’re endeavoring into
autonomous vehicle technology
and all sorts of crazy things,
so that’s how I got to here.
>>I started GRCC
10 years ago,
so in 2007, I was
a freshman here,
straight out
of high school.
But before that, I
was new to the state,
so I had moved here
from New Jersey
four years
prior to that.
And so, yeah, I was new to
the state, brand new student,
looking to pursue
a college education,
not knowing exactly
what I wanted to do.
So I remember that first
day, it was right after–
it was some time
in June of 2007,
I walked into the
Enrollment Center
and I showed up just
looking to apply.
And then, I was welcomed
by happy and warm faces
that have helped me through
that application process,
and soon
after that,
the supervisor in the
Enrollment Center
was like, “You know what,
you’d be great to work here.
“Why don’t
you apply?”
And not thinking anything
of it, I’m like, “Okay, hey,
“I’m a first-generation
college student.
“I’m new to this.
“Let’s just try and
see where this leads.”
So later, somewhere after that,
I had applied, interviewed.
And while I was in that
interview with that supervisor,
you know, she’s
asking me,
“Okay, so what are
you interested in?
“What do you
wanna do?”
And my only response
to her was like,
“You know what, I don’t know
exactly what I want to do,
“but I do have a passion
to work with people.
“I at least
know that.”
And so, from there was the
beginning of that conversation,
right, she hired me
weeks after that.
And I was able to
be immersed, right,
work with so many
different types of people,
make long-lasting
friendships.
I mean, the people that I met
in the Enrollment Center
10 years ago are still my
lifelong friends today.
Like, our kids play
with each other today.
And so, it was
just an experience.
You know, some of the things
that I learned there
were just
lifelong skills.
And so, from there, I finished
off my Associate’s degree
in 2010, went
off to Western.
I studied
family studies.
And then, from there,
graduated in 2013.
Did a little bit more work in
our West Michigan community,
and then, I pursued a
Master’s degree in 2014.
So.
>>The way I got to GRCC
was I got kicked out
of public schools
several times.
I don’t say that as a badge
of honor, but just a reality.
And I ended up going to an
alternative high school,
Horizons, which is no
longer in existence.
And then, there,
I was on the verge
of getting
kicked out again.
I come from an
immigrant family.
I came– I was born in Cuba
and came here when I was 11.
So culturally, it was
hard for us to adjust
to a lot of the
systems here,
so we would just get in
trouble for regular things.
You know, talking too much,
being too social, what have you.
And so, at this
last school,
and the alternative school
was my last chance,
and I was being
walked to the office
to be asked to leave
the school permanently.
And the English
teacher came out–
her name is
Jackie Friend.
And she made a deal with
the principal and said,
“Let me keep him
in my classroom,”
and then, she made a deal
with me, and she said,
“If you can stay quiet
for the 50 minutes,
“the last 10 minutes,
you can tell jokes,
“tell stories, and do
whatever you want.”
And that’s how I found
my passion for acting.
Being that she was a
supporter of Actors’ Theater,
which had their initial
home here at GRCC
at the old little
church up the hill,
she put me in touch
with Fred Sebulske,
who was the Theater
Department Head there.
She helped me fill
out my application,
she did pretty much
everything for me.
As Hilda said,
I’m also a first-generation
college student,
so my family didn’t really know
how to navigate those waters,
so if it wasn’t for her, I
would’ve never attended GRCC.
And so, that’s where I found
my passion for acting.
Came here for two years,
then I went up to Western,
got my Bachelor’s there
and I moved to Chicago,
and I’ve been
acting ever since.
And I recently moved back
about five years ago.
And I brought a lot of
my life experiences,
the networking
that I had done,
the initiatives
that I had built.
And I started
two business.
One of them is Mixed
Roots Collective,
which is a theater
company here in town.
We currently have an ArtPrize
entry over at 333 Rumsey.
You guys can
see that.
And also
One World Diversity.
And One World Diversity, along
with my partners Todd Lewis
and Shelly Urbane, was
more of the corporate side
on how to bring theater
into the corporate world
while we do diversity
and inclusion training.
It’s been very successful,
especially this last year.
And so– and I
still do acting,
I still work
outta Chicago–
film, television,
what have you.
But yeah, that’s how my journey
kinda came through GRCC.
>>Well, I also am from a
family that’s pretty diverse.
I’m a first-generation
college student.
My home town is actually
Benton Harbor, Michigan–
I don’t know how familiar you
guys are with Benton Harbor,
but that’s where I
was born and raised.
Parents, like I said,
definitely put an emphasis
on going
to college,
didn’t necessarily
have all the answers
on how I was supposed
to get there.
I was one of those
people who had a plan
all through high school,
got good grades.
I would do pageants, I
was Miss Benton Harbor,
I did Blossomtime,
I had scholarships.
Did internships at the global
headquarters of Whirlpool.
And I had a
Presidential Scholarship
to Michigan Tech
University.
And keep in mind, I had
never been to the UP before.
Michigan Tech is at the very
top of the Upper Peninsula.
I had never been to the
Upper Peninsula before,
but I told everyone
I was going to use
my Presidential Scholarship
to go to Michigan Tech
and double major in Computer
and Electrical Engineering.
So when I graduated
from high school,
I got a key to the
city of Benton Harbor,
I waved all my
friends goodbye,
and my parents drove 12 hours
to drop me off in the UP.
And I was the only
African-American female
in the entire
incoming class.
And keep in mind,
I’m from Benton Harbor
which is about
99% black.
And so, it was a bit
of culture shock.
It was so distracting
and so isolating to me
that I started to discover that
I didn’t even like engineering.
I didn’t know who to
tell that I didn’t.
I felt like I was working
out at a big university,
I hated it.
And then came the
12 feet of snow.
And then came just a
million other things
that let me know
that I was miserable.
And I internalized this as–
kinda feel like I had failed.
I was like, “Oh, my god,
I went to college
“and I hate college–
college is not for me.”
And I secretly deferred
my enrollment
and didn’t tell
my parents.
Drove back to Benton Harbor
to work that summer,
found out that my
grandma had cancer,
and was like, “Okay,
cannot tell my parents
“that I’m not going
back to the UP.”
And my best friend, the
only person that I had told
that my grandma had cancer,
lived here in Grand Rapids.
His name
was DJ.
And DJ was
going to GRCC.
He was a student orientation
leader and he loved GRCC.
He was having so much
fun in Grand Rapids.
And when I came
to visit him,
he just seemed like he
loved being in the city.
And I was like, “Man,
Grand Rapids seems really cool,
“like GRCC seems
really nice.
“I don’t know what
I wanna study,
“but I know I don’t wanna
be in engineering.”
So I just secretly moved
myself to Grand Rapids.
My friend who was a student
leader scheduled my classes.
And there I was,
going to school at GRCC,
living downtown, and
having the time of my life.
DJ went on to
move to Chicago,
going to Columbia for
his Arts program there.
And then, I was in Grand Rapids
kind of by myself.
And I signed up to
be a student employee.
I applied to work at
the book store first.
And I was working
at the book store
and making a lot
of connections.
And then, I ended up working
in the Student Life office
and working with the
Enrollment Center…
and the more connected
I got on campus,
the more I found the
deeper my passion was
for really
community work.
So kind of to
fast-forward to today,
I’ve graduated with my
Bachelor’s of Science
from Grand Valley.
I’m studying for
law school right now.
I’m currently
the full-time
Strategic Communications
Coordinator for LINC UP,
a large revitalization
nonprofit in Grand Rapids.
And I also do radio–
I have a weekly radio show
called “Political Pulse
with Denavvia Mojét,”
on 97.3 The Beat.
So I love
Urban Radio.
Me and some other
community leaders
founded about a year ago a
political action committee
called “Equity PAC,”
where we had given out
thousands of dollars
to candidates
that are going to
advance equity.
We decided that we
needed to be impactful
in shifting
political structures,
and that’s what
we decided to do.
In addition to that, I also
sit on the board of Well House.
And that’s a non-profit that
works to end homelessness
in Grand Rapids.
And I think a lot of those
connections that I made
and a lot of confidence
that I gained
to embark upon the endeavors
that I’ve been a part of now
came out of
being at GRCC,
connecting with folks
like Rhondo Cooper
and the folks at the
Counseling office
that I could just come bug
and tell all my ideas to.
Here at GRCC, I just made
a lot of connections
with a lot of the professors
and a lot of the folks who–
I met President Jimmy Carter
when he came to GRCC
because I was a
student here,
and had so many other
phenomenal experiences
that gave me the confidence
to do more around the city
of Grand Rapids, and so, I’m
still very involved today.
>>So Hilda and Sammy, you
both touched on mentors
in your life that
impacted you.
Could you talk more
about the role
that your mentor played and
how they connected with you
to get you to where
you are today?
>>Yeah, so that supervisor
in the Enrollment Center
played a crucial role
as a mentor to me.
One of the things she
said to me early on was,
“You have to learn how to
be a natural observer
“of all people.”
And at 18 years old,
I’m like, you know,
“What does
that mean?”
And she’s like,
“You’ll get it.
“With time,
you’ll get it.
“You work in a
crucial role.
“You are the front face
of the college.
“When people walk in, they’re
going to be greeted by you,
“they’re going to
see your face.
“Some or the majority of
people are going to relate
“with the face that they see,
so you have to be careful.
“You don’t have to always
experience everything
“just by being that
natural observer.”
And I took that–
that was a new concept.
I ran with it.
I fell in love with
what she said.
You know, and she’s like,
“Always remember.”
You know, “Think of
that one man or woman
“that uses up their
last piece of change
“to take the bus to come over
here down to GRCC to apply.
“You know, think
about their journey,
“think about what
has led someone
“to show up here
in front of you.
“You know, be kind,
be compassionate.
“Give them all that
you have, right?
“And if you don’t know it,
then pass it onto someone else.
“Like, acknowledge that.”
You know, and she’s
just talking to me
about, “Get to know–
develop a knowledge of self,
“develop who you are, and
this is the time to do it.”
She’s like,
“I know you’re new.
“I know you’re
still feeling
“like you don’t wanna
be in Michigan,
“like you wanna go
back home to Jersey,
“like this may be not a
place where you fit in.
“But give GRCC a chance,
give people,
“give yourself a chance,
right, to grow,
“and to develop, and to
learn different things.
“And by meeting
different people,
“you’ll learn a lot about
yourself in that process.”
And so, a lot of what I
did was just put myself
in that position to just
do just that, right?
To listen to her, to
observe lots of people.
To meet a lot of
diverse individuals
that came to me looking
for help, right?
And so, that
particular person,
which is still a mentor
to me today, right,
who’s been in like monumental
moments in my life.
And me and hers, you know,
I always go to that.
I’m like, “You know, it started
with that conversation.
“It started with that
moment and it started
with that interview
in your office,
where you’re telling me these
things that, at the moment,
you know, I’m just taking
it all, soaking it in.
But that was one
of the key things
that impacted me, and
I just took it forth.
>>As far as mentors,
I think,
especially as
children of color,
meaning African-American,
Latino…
this whole concept of mentors
is pretty foreign to us
because we understand
the hookup,
meaning that we know
the person we can go to
to get
something done.
But the broader idea of
mentoring and networking
is kinda
strange to us,
and a lot of students
that I speak with,
because mentoring
involves over time.
It’s not just a quick fix
for something that you need.
And part of the
responsibility of mentoring
is honesty and
responsibility.
So if you say you’re
gonna be somewhere,
then you’re gonna
be at that place.
And you expect the same
way for your mentee,
not just as kind of
like a passing by–
“Oh, yeah, maybe
I’ll see you tomorrow.”
And so, for me, I learned
that through my mentor–
both of them, who were
Jackie Friend, as I mentioned,
my high school
English teacher
and Fred Sebulske
here at GRCC–
so much so that I got
to see other parts
of the world that
I wasn’t aware of.
I got to learn
about LGBT issues,
particularly working at
the Theater department,
because I worked
in the work study–
through my work study, I
worked at the box office.
And I remember Fred has
this triangle upside down
in his office that used
to say “Safe Space.”
And for like the first year,
I had no idea what that meant.
I would just see
student come in,
sometimes they
would leave crying.
And you know, and I never
really asked till one day,
I decided to ask Fred, you know,
“What happens in that room?
“Why do people come out crying?
(chuckling)
“And some people come
out really happy?”
And then, he started
explaining to me what he did
and what his role was in
the larger scheme of things
and support here at GRCC,
which then opened my mind up
not only to equality
and issues of diversity,
but to a whole population
that me as a Cuban kid
coming to this country had
never really thought about.
We didn’t really talk about
LGBT issues in my family,
and I think that’s a
cultural thing, too,
in a lot of
Latino families.
But through Fred, I was able
to kinda look through that lens,
which impacts
my work today.
Through Fred, I learned the
importance of, you know,
doing what you say you’re
gonna do, be there on time.
Especially
in theater.
Nothing takes importance
over the show.
So if the show starts at 8:00,
and somebody passes away
in your family at 7:45,
you still gotta go on stage
at 8 o’clock, get that done,
and then you deal with
whatever happens
at 9:30.
If you break your leg,
whatever it may be.
Because of the people
that are coming to see you
have set aside time,
not only money, but time,
to come see this
particular–
they don’t care what’s going
on in your personal life,
and really, your responsibility
is to deliver at that time.
So I learned a lot of
that through my mentors,
and because I was
a man of my word
and I did the things
that I was gonna say,
my mentor was then able to
put me in different positions
or maybe guide me
in different spots
where he knew that I wasn’t
gonna make him look bad,
make the program
look bad.
So then, I found myself in a
lot of more responsibilities
in my roles at
the theater.
I took that with me
to Western, as well.
I think I learned to be
an independent thinker,
to ask a lot
of “whys.”
You know, “Why does this
have to be this way?”
Which then informs what I
do today with my mentality
and how I approach
my business.
My whole idea has
always been not to work
for anybody else,
just to work for myself.
So I’m a
stay-at-home dad,
but I also have all these other
ventures that I take part in.
And I learned a lot of that
from my mentors here at GRCC.
And I’m continuing to do
that with Tom Kaechele
and Shelly Urbane, as well, at
the Theater department
as my, you know,
adult mentors, if you will.
Because the network
never stops.
Like, you need to continue to
build those relationships.
And if you’re responsible
in those relationships,
they will be reciprocated
back to you
when opportunities
arise.
>>Okay, so Tony and Denavvia,
you guys talked about
how you got your
foot in the door.
And you kind of– you got into
all these great opportunities
by getting
connected.
Can you guys talk on how did
you get your foot in the door
and involved with
the right people?
>>Oh, boy, um…
how did I get involved
with the right people?
Well, for me, it was more of
building a physical resume.
I always kind of had this
idea a long time ago
that, if I built something
to showcase my skills
and my attributes, mine
being electric motorcycle
and racing it, that would
kind of get me noticed
and hopefully get me a career
in the direction I wanted to go.
So it was kind of a shot
in the dark, honestly.
(chuckling)
I didn’t know if it
would work or not.
But that was kind of the
direction I was going with that.
And all of the classes
I took during college
were kind of focused
on that goal.
Not even necessarily
my Associate’s degree,
which I did complete, but I also
took several elective classes
that worked
towards that.
The instructors were
also very helpful.
I made sure
to kinda…
always leave my class
without a question.
If you ever had a question
leaving a class, you know,
I’d stay after, I’d
ask the professor.
I’d say, “Hey, can you
kinda go over this again.
“I didn’t really
understand it.
You know, can you show me
exactly how to do that,”
if it was something with,
you know, welding
or CNC machining or
anything like that.
Those kind of–
I didn’t specifically
have like one mentor
maybe going through college,
but I had several.
I kinda consider all of
my technical instructors
my mentors, ’cause I would pick
their brains consistently,
probably to the point
of annoyance, but…
(chuckling)
you know, it got me
to where I am today.
And that’s kind of how I
got my foot in the door.
>>I think for me, because I’ve
always been pretty political,
I’ve always believed in
the power of networking.
In between GRCC and today,
some of the experiences
that I’ve had
and the opportunities
that I’ve been afforded
have literally been just
from being bold enough
to dare to speak
up in a space
where people wanna
know who you are.
And they don’t wanna
know who you are
if you decide
to be silent.
And so, I’ve always
just kind of believed
in the power of networking–
I’ve decided to be present.
Whether it’s a city
commission meeting,
whether it’s a state
representative coffee date,
it’s coffee with
the chief of police.
If I have
concerns,
people will hear them.
(chuckling)
And I’m just one
of those people
who really believes
that the world around me
and the people
around me matter,
and that the strength
and who I am
is not necessarily in
being Denavvia Mojét,
but really in
being a connector.
And so, I’m that person who
capped out her Facebook friends
a long, long time ago–
it cannot go over 5,000.
That is just who
I’ve always been.
I’ve always been, “Oh, let’s
exchange business cards,
“let’s connect, let’s do
coffee, let’s do lunch.”
And when you’re someone
who’s very passionate
about improving
the community,
I mean, outside of,
you know, a business card
that says I’m a strategic
communications coordinator.
If in your heart,
at your core,
you’re really a
community builder
and you’re passionate about it,
you can connect with people
that wanna see you
thrive and succeed.
So for example, for me,
when you speak
to kind of getting
your foot in the door…
I told the mayor, at the
time it was George Heartwell,
when I was going
to GRCC, I said,
“You know what, I
wanna be more connected.
“I wanna do more
in the community.
“I need
some mentors.
“I need you to assign
me some mentors.
“Give me some targets that
I’m going to make my mentors.”
That’s literally what I
said to him several times,
to the point that when
he saw me, he goes,
“I know my homework assignment–
I have to get you some mentors.”
And then, he went
home and emailed
Commissioner Senita Lenear,
Commissioner Ruth Kelly,
then Commissioner
Rosalynn Bliss,
who’s now the mayor.
And was just like, “This
young lady is passionate
“about politics.
“And she is so passionate
about the world around her.”
And I was telling him
all about my experiences
at GRCC
at the time.
I was the President of the
Grand Rapids Community College
Foreign Affairs Club.
And we used to go to these
conferences in Chicago
for Model United Nations through
Professor Keith St. Clair.
We used to meet right
here at Sneden.
And I loved doing that,
and I loved coming back
to Grand Rapids from that
experience of meeting
with college students from
all over the country
and, you know, trying to tackle
all the world’s problems
in like one weekend,
and then coming back
to Grand Rapids like,
“Oh, good, we solved
world hunger.
(all laughing)
You know, like…
I used to love that, and
I talked to the mayor
about those experiences, and
so he kind of assigned me
some mentors who I
still call up today,
who I still
work with today.
And those people, when
they have ambitions,
I’m made sure– I say,
“I’m more than willing
“to start on the
ground floor learning.”
I’ve always been someone who
said, “Hey, teach me something.
“I don’t need to make a
million dollars right now.
“I need to learn.”
And so, when Rosalynn’s like,
“I’m running for this seat
“or that seat,”
I would love
to volunteer.
“You need me to canvas?
I have no idea what that means.
“We didn’t canvas
in Benton Harbor.
“But you can teach me–
like, I’m very teachable.”
And experiences like
that later led to me
being the campaign manager
for David LaGrand
as he ran for State House,
who’s today the representative
for the district that
we’re sitting in right now.
Running that campaign came from
a “get your foot in the door”
kind of moment.
Leaving that
campaign,
took consult on several
more campaigns,
and working for the Downtown
Development Authority.
Those were all “get your foot
in the door” kind of moments.
Mayor George Heartwell
said, “You know,
“we got the
Mayor’s 100 Program.
“You should do
this program.”
And I was sitting at
the Student Life office,
talking to my then boss Molly
about how I wanted to try
and get this internship
for the city.
And I talked to Mayor Heartwell
and talked to some people
and Our Community’s
Children office.
I’ve never been someone
to just send an email…
like, you’re gonna
see my face.
(chuckling)
So I went down to the
City Hall to talk to them
about the
internship program.
And they were like,
“I think we have
“the perfect
position for you.”
And I came in on
the ground level.
I always, you know,
confidently introduced myself,
told people exactly what
I was passionate about,
and asked how I could help
make my community better
and let them find
a way to fit me in.
And whether that was in
a volunteering capacity,
an interning capacity, and then,
later, a management capacity,
I was always confident
enough to tell people
exactly who I am
and exactly what I think
I’m supposed to be doing
on this world, and how
can we work together
to make sure
we’re doing that?
And so, that’s
kind of been
my “get my foot in
the door” philosophy
from day one.
And it’s kinda worked
pretty well for me.
I think I’m blessed
to be where I am.
I’m 24, and I sit
on a lot of panels.
A few weeks ago, I was
on NPR, Michigan Radio,
“Stateside,” talking
about Equity PAC.
And not because I have a
doctorate or I wrote a book.
Because I give out
my business card
and I connect to people,
I follow up,
I send emails, and
I do meetings,
and I figure how
I can plug in,
and how I can make
my community better,
and then I don’t stop until
I feel like I’ve done that.
>>So Tony and Sammy, you
both kind of talked about…
Tony, you’ve talked
about your struggles
of creating a resume
and not even knowing
if it would work, but it
was a shot in the dark,
and Sammy, you talked about
your struggles in high school.
Can you guys say if there was
anything that you would change
or anything you learned
during your experience
or anything you would’ve
done differently?
>>If there was anything
I would do differently,
I would actually have taken
more elective classes.
I would maybe even have done
a second Associate’s degree.
Honestly, I value the
skills that I learned
more than basically
anything.
The time I spent at GRCC
doing these things
really, really pushed me
to kind of even create
and do more things
even past that.
So if anything, I would’ve
actually continued my schooling.
Even I would now, if I didn’t
work over 50-60 hours a week.
But, um…
(chuckling)
The whole point
of doing that
was to basically create that
physical resume, and it worked.
And so, like I said, it
was a shot in the dark
but, you know, it was a
challenge to get it done.
You know, with working
full-time, going to school,
and doing that on the side,
it was a full schedule.
And do I wish I
had more time?
Absolutely, but I don’t
regret it one bit.
>>I wouldn’t change anything
as far as my path getting here,
except taking a Geology
class right after lunch
that was three hours
long, and I failed,
’cause I used to fall
asleep all the time.
(audience laughing)
Other than that– yeah, it
was a bad move on my part.
I learned my lesson, and I
haven’t done that ever since.
No, you know, there was
times where, you know–
there was time in my
career where I was homeless
and I slept on the Red Line
in Chicago for about a week
right after the
writers strike,
I just moved to Chicago
and I was there for, like,
you know, a year and a half,
and I was just getting momentum,
and I was starting to
get really good auditions.
And the writers strike hit, and
I ended up just being homeless,
sleeping wherever I could,
and on the train,
because the Red Line
runs 24 hours in Chicago,
it’s hard to get kicked
off and even if you do,
you come back, and
jump on the other train
’cause it runs 24/7.
So during those times,
I always thought, “Man,
“I wish I would’ve
stayed in school,
“gotten my Master’s,
gotten this and that.”
But what kept me
going was the path
that I knew that I was on,
and I was very determined.
A friend of mine once said
that he’s never made a plan B.
Because if you
made a plan B,
it meant that he was
intending to use it.
And so, I kinda had that
mentality without hearing that.
I knew that acting,
entertainment
was my way for me
to be happy,
for me to be
compassionate,
for me to change my community,
for me to touch others.
So I knew that eventually
something would pop off,
something would
come of it.
And so, I just
stuck with it.
And you know, because of the
networks that I have built
here at GRCC
and at Western,
you know, eventually, I was
able to move in with a friend
and, you know, and kind
of get back on my feet.
But I wouldn’t change anything
that I’ve ever been through
’cause it’s made
me who I am today.
You know, as young people,
you’re gonna mess up a lot
because that’s part
of the journey.
The point is not how many
times you fall down,
but how many
times you get up.
So this is your
time to mess up,
because this is where you
learn your strengths
and your
weaknesses.
This is where you learn
how much you can take
and how much
you can’t take.
And when you do find
that threshold,
you just put a
little pin in that,
“Okay, that’s my
threshold right there.”
And so, everything else
that you do forward
is either trying to
avoid that threshold
or when you get
to that threshold,
knowing what to do
once you get there.
If I know–
for instance, for me…
there are times that I’ll
go on a big audition
and it gets sent
to network,
and there’s all these
different steps, right?
I learned a long
time ago that,
when I don’t
obtain those roles,
my physical body changes,
like I get depressed.
Like, I’m just not a
nice person to be around.
So a couple of years
ago, my wife said,
“You know, you need
to figure out
“what happens
during this time.
“And so, what we’re gonna do
is you’re gonna take 24 hours
“and just sulk in your misery,
just don’t leave the house,
“you know, stay
in your pajamas,
“stay on the couch,
do whatever.
“But after that 24 hours,
we gotta start over again.”
And having that train of
thought with my partner,
and also the permission, so
it doesn’t have to be weird
around the house, we both
know what’s going on,
has changed a lot of
the way that I approach
my work
professionally,
because there are gonna be those
disappointments as an actor.
If you book 10% of the
auditions you go on,
you’re doing
pretty well.
You’re probably going about
two or three a month.
If we do that over the year,
that’s 36 to 40 auditions.
10% of that is 3.6,
if we go with 36.
So three times, you’re
gonna book something
out of almost 40 times that
you went out in front of people.
So you have to learn to
deal with that adversity.
You have to figure out how
to deal with that pain,
with that sadness,
and then move on,
and then get back on the
horse and then do it again.
And that’s what life
is about, really–
it’s just another mirror
of another situation.
Life is gonna knock you down
and you’re gonna make mistakes–
okay, sulk it in, you know,
it was a bad day.
Tomorrow’s a new day–
you get right back on it.
You might’ve failed a
semester, failed a class.
Okay, you
did that.
You got that out
of your system.
Now, we start over.
I think that’s what
it’s all about.
If you just sit in
your own misery
and don’t do
anything about it,
that’s when things go awry,
that’s when you start diverting
from your passion,
from your true mission.
>>So Sammy kind of touched on
the adversity that he faced.
Could Tony and Hilda
and Denavvia,
could you also talk about
some adversity that you faced
and how you overcame it
during your journey here?
>>Some of the challenges
I went through
as a student
in particular
is, I mean, again, is being new
to the whole college experience,
not having that
reference point.
Not knowing exactly the
ins and outs, right?
Not knowing when exactly
to register for classes,
or who to go to, or maybe
to have a certain someone
to go to here on campus
besides that mentor that I had.
I didn’t really have
a good experience
with the advisors here on campus
back when I was a student.
And so, for me, I said,
“All right, how do I–
“what do I do
to change that?”
I’m not the type to be showing
up at the Counseling office
to see an advisor, and what
if they’re not available–
I don’t have time
for that, right?
I need to learn this and I
need to learn this now, right?
And so, for me, being
in that position
where I worked here on campus
as a student employee,
I literally
did research.
I did lots
of research.
I’m like, “How do
I figure this out?
“How do I make sure that
I teach myself first
“the things that I need to know
as a student to be successful
“before someone
comes in here
“asking me the same
exact things,” right?
And so, it
took me a while.
It took me, you know,
time to research, practice,
but with time, I was able
to figure that out.
And it wasn’t until, you know,
once I graduated GRCC
with my Associate’s degree
that I went off to Western,
I ended up moving to
Kalamazoo for a year.
But then, I came back
over here to Grand Rapids
for a job
opportunity.
And I was driving
back and forth.
I mean, sometimes, I had
to drive from Grand Rapids
to Kalamazoo
four days a week.
And my last semester of my
undergraduate, I was pregnant.
So I had to deal with that,
I had to figure out,
“Wait a minute,
I have to, first of all,
“figure out what’s
happening inside me,
“all of this growth
and changes,
“but also, I have
to continue on.
“I still have a year
left to graduate.
“And I know that this
is what I wanna do.”
So it was a lot of
back and forth, right?
The driving part was a hassle,
but I had to do it, right?
My last semester of
my undergraduate,
I was five classes short,
15 credits before graduating,
and I remember I went
into the Records Office,
and I’m like, “I need all five
classes, I’m taking all 15.”
All 15 credits.
>>Like a boss.
(audience laughing)
>>And she’s like,
“Are you sure?
“Like, are you
kidding me?”
And I was like,
“No, I’m doing it.
“I’m doing it– I’m not waiting
one more semester to graduate.
And I did it, right,
and it’s working hard.
So between online classes,
driving 45-50 minutes,
attending class, taking care
of myself, I finished strong.
There was no greater feeling
than that day of graduating
to be on that stage on
Western, December 2013.
That was the best
feeling in the world.
I have chills talking
about it right now.
‘Cause I know I earned that,
I did that.
But it was
hard to do.
So to me, that was a challenge,
right, but I did it.
I recognized that I had those
protective factors in place.
I had my parents,
I had my husband, right?
I had individuals
that are there
that, although they didn’t quite
know exactly how to help me
and to what capacity,
just by them being there,
sitting next to,
encouraging me,
that’s all the
encouragement I needed.
So they did what
they had to do,
and now, I said, “Now, I have
to do what I have to do, right?
“I have to put
in my work.”
But yeah, looking
back at it, I’m like,
“I don’t know
how I did it
“or why I even chose
to do what I did,
“but it has led
me here,” yeah.
>>I actually had
a similar experience
just recently at
Grand Valley.
It was, you know–
my thinking now is,
when I look
at adversity
or really any
obstacle at all,
my thought is, “Always
focus on where I’m going.”
Like, life is always
going to be happening.
I used to feel like,
“Oh, I need to wait
“for a better
time for this,
“or I have to wait
for a better time
“when I can really
focus for that.”
And I realized you have to just
stop giving your permission–
uh, giving yourself permission
to wait, and to stop,
and wait for the world to
be perfect, and go for it.
You just have to push
through sometimes,
and that’s been my testimony
since day one, right?
I came to Grand Rapids
because–
I was largely raised
by my grandma.
You know, my parents
were there,
but my grandma lived
across the street.
She had bought the house for
us, and my parents divorced,
I spent every day at
my grandma’s house.
I stayed the night at
my grandma’s house.
And when my grandma got
cancer the first time
and then she recovered, then
she got cancer a second time,
had to go to surgery, I moved
in with her, took care of her.
Then she
recovered.
Five years went by, she was
on remission, she was healthy,
I was in the UP,
when I came back,
she had cancer a third time,
and she didn’t tell anybody.
You know, it was like that
thing where everyone at church
is like, “You’re
the success story,”
and she’s like,
“Uh-oh.”
You know?
And so, when I moved
to Grand Rapids,
I fully intended to be very much
in Benton Harbor all the time.
Like, as much as I could
possibly be in Benton Harbor
visiting my grandma,
that was the plan.
And then, of course, while I was
here at GRCC the third time,
she did pass away.
And so, then,
I lost my grandma.
And in addition to kinda
losing someone you love,
like there’s loss, right,
but she was like 70,
she was getting older,
she was still very lively
and hilarious and all
kinds of spunky and feisty,
but she was getting
older, right?
It wasn’t just losing her,
it was losing a lot of support.
You know, when
you’re in college,
sometimes you need someone
that’ll just send you some food.
Like, sometimes,
you just need to eat,
like you cannot just survive
on ramen noodles forever.
Like, you have to go eat
real food at some point.
And that was my grandma–
she was real food, she was
like, “OMG, I got a ticket,”
and I have no money
to pay the ticket.
And she’s gonna give
me a long lecture
but then she’s gonna
give me the money
to make sure that ticket
gets paid, as I’m leaving.
(all laughing)
So like, I lost that,
almost like the safety net.
You know, my grandma
was the safety net
for our
whole family.
She was the one who
always understood finances,
and she was the one who
always understood, you know–
she’d always give, in
her own Southern way,
she would kinda push
you in one direction,
but she kinda
had it together.
And so, GRCC
post-grandma
was a completely
different experience
because it was really like I
was doing everything by myself,
you know
what I mean?
There was no– I didn’t feel
like I had the safety net
that I had
before that.
Just because I didn’t
always feel as close to,
you know, everyone
else in my family
as I did with
my grandma.
And so, that, obviously,
was adversity.
It was very
distracting.
I even took a semester off
to literally be depressed.
I did nothing,
I didn’t go anywhere.
I was actually– I
moved out to York Creek
with some people
that I had just met.
And just didn’t know
what I wanted to do.
I just was
like, “Well–“
I wasn’t really talking
to anybody in my family.
I was just kind of,
just disappeared for a while.
And then, I had
an uncle call me
and tell me I needed
to do something,
and I just– I drove
right back downtown,
applied for school,
like re-enrolled,
and decided to
push through.
That– life happens,
honestly.
There’ll be a
million-and-one excuses.
Everybody in this room is going
to have life happen to them.
And it’s never
convenient, okay?
It’s never the perfect
time for that breakup.
Or OMG, that– you know,
whatever it is in your world,
there’s always
gonna be adversity.
And the focus is always what’s
on the other side of it.
For me, I also– I have
a one-year-old right now
and I went through my
last semester at GRCC–
at GVSU, actually,
when I was working
on my Bachelor’s for
undergrad this past year.
Being a mom and a student,
a community activist,
a consultant, all
of the above, you know?
Coming into 2017, this–
actually 2016–
coming into 2016, I was
taking five classes,
I was running a
State House campaign,
my three-year-long
boyfriend
had just moved back to Michigan
so we were moving in together,
and then I
was pregnant,
and I was just like, “I am
not gonna let my GPA fall.
“I am not going to
stop working–
“like, my candidate
has to win,
“I have to do this,
I have to do that.”
And it was just never
the convenient time.
And so, for me…
it’s just, “Don’t
make excuses.”
You push through because
there’s something on the side
of everything that’s
a distraction.
Just like– it seems like
it’s never the perfect time
to pursue whatever
you’re passionate about.
It always seems
like a bad time.
But I think what I’ve learned
in life and in finances, right–
you gotta– it’s like
this theory that,
“You always
pay yourself.
“You always put something
in your savings first.
“Put a little penny
away every time.
“No matter what, you just push
through investing yourself.”
And I’ve always been
someone who said,
“Okay, the world
is happening,
“but what’s gonna be
investing in me?”
And my education has
always been that.
School has always
been that.
“Okay, well, it’s a lot
going on right now,
“and yes, I have
to be a mom,
“yes, I have to be
this and that.
“But I gotta
invest in myself.”
And school is not something
that I’m doing for now,
it’s something I’m
doing for later.
And so, that’s what gets
me through adversity then,
and now, and
probably ever more
because, even with a
one-year-old, right,
is it ever the perfect
time for law school,
when you have so much going
on in the world around you?
It’s like, “Oh, this is
such an important time
“to get 10 times more
politically active.”
And it’s like, “Mmm,
this is a good time
“to invest in
myself as well.”
And so, you just prioritize
pushing through.
>>Yeah, I can’t agree
enough, actually.
Investing in yourself
especially, you know–
there’s never
a good time.
You know, you can always
make excuses, but you know,
I know there’s a lot of
people out here probably
that are working, you know,
full or part-time
and going to
school as well.
And it seems like
a lot, you know,
and you have those nights
where you just wanna say,
you know, “Why am
I doing this?”
You know, but you just
gotta push through.
And like Hilda said,
that day at graduation,
it’s all worth it.
So yup, yup.
>>So this question
is for everybody.
How are you making
an impact right now
on your community
or your field?
>>Okay, so
I’ll start, sure.
How am I making
an impact?
So when I started
Mixed Roots Collective,
people were asking me
if this was gonna be
the “Latino theater”
in Grand Rapids.
“Are you the Ebony Road Players,
the African-American theater?”
We all know about the other
major theaters in town.
And so, “Are you
that thing,
“that you’re gonna be the
‘brown theater’ in town?”
And I said, “No.”
I said, “I’m gonna do stuff
that I’m passionate about.”
And yes, some of the stories
are related to Latinos,
to– I don’t like
using the term Hispanic,
but if that better
helps you understand,
the Hispanic
population.
And then, what ended
up happening is…
I’m my own
vessel.
I don’t need to wear a sign
that says I’m Latino.
I’m a Latino actor doing all
these roles that, in the past,
people thought was
impossible to do.
So that in itself is
my vehicle for change.
I don’t need to be the
Latino first to do anything.
I’m just Sammy Puebles who
happened to be born in Cuba
and is doing
good work, period.
Everything else
that comes with that
is attached, and the labels,
and this and that,
that’s up to
the audience,
that’s up to the
people watching.
And so if– I remember going
on campus at Western Michigan
and seeing these men dressed up,
and they were fraternal men.
Alpha Phi Alpha,
Omega Psi Phi, Kappa Alpha Psi.
And I remember looking
at these men and saying,
“There’s no men
that look like me
“that are wearing
these letters.”
So I started investigating what
is this whole Greek life about,
and came to find out that there
had been a Latino fraternity
on campus
in the past.
I decided to
start it back up–
this also goes with the
whole networking conversation
we were having.
And so, after like six years
of not being on campus,
we came back.
Now, the reason why I’m
telling you the story
is because my ship,
my line, the brothers
that came with me and refounded
this were not all Latinos.
There– we had
an Indian brother,
we had a
Filipino brother.
But the point was, we all
came from the same background.
There was six of us– Bolivian,
Puerto Rican, Filipino,
Cuban, Indian,
and Puerto Rican.
And what we all
had in common
was the change that
we wanted to do.
It had nothing to do with
who we were as a person,
but the work that
we were doing.
So I say this
all to say…
through my companies
and through my work,
I’ve been able to see the impact
and the change that I can do
as an individual,
and then let everybody else
put those labels on you
because that’s how
society works, right?
We need to have little
groups so we can say,
“Oh, that group
and this group.”
I don’t accept
that system.
I don’t take
part in it.
I happen to be who I am
because of who I was born,
but my qualities
are my qualities,
the things that I have
accomplished are because
of my parents and the people
that impacted my life.
So therefore, through
One World Diversity,
our corporate kind
of arm of our theater,
what we decided to do
is do the same thing.
Oh, this is how
it’s usually done–
people come up here and
talk to Human Resources
about these are the things
that you should be doing,
these are the people
we should be accepting.
I said, “I don’t
like that system,
“I’m gonna
start a whole–“
or take a system, an
existing system, and tailor it
for my strengths
and for my needs.
And through both of my
companies, you know,
we do great things in our
community through One World,
we’re able to be part
of the diversity
and equality conversation
here in Grand Rapids,
from gentrification,
to LGBT issues,
to police
brutality issues,
I’m able to speak my
voice through that.
And the feedback that we’ve
gotten has been very positive
in the form of other
people wanting us
to come speak
at their event,
or wanting us to come do
some type of lectures.
I’m going this weekend– I
actually changed my tickets
so I could be at
your function, sir.
(chuckling)
I wouldn’t miss
that for the world.
But I’ll be speaking
in DC on Saturday
about Latino and
African-American unity
when it comes to fraternal
and sorority life on campuses.
That’s something that I’ve
been doing more and more
the last
year or so.
Just because, unity-wise, we
tend to separate each others
in these sub-sub-groups of
colleges and universities,
and we really just are
fighting for the crumbs.
And I’ve always been
the person to say,
“Let’s fight
for the pie.”
Like, we’re getting
the little crumbs
and we wanna argue about,
“Well, you got $10 last year
“but now you’re only gonna get
$5 because now I’m on campus.”
It’s like, no, the
problem is the system,
not these small little– let’s
refocus the conversation here.
I don’t accept what
you’re giving me.
I think it’s BS.
I don’t agree with this–
the real problem is this.
And so, the last
six months or so,
being a member of
Sigma Lambda Beta
here as an alumni, I’ve
been able to reach out
to the National
Pan-Hellenic Council,
which is mostly
the Divine Nine,
sororities and
fraternities–
African-American sororities
and fraternities–
and we’ve been able to come
together on a local level.
Now, I’m trying to do
that on a national level.
That’s just another
extension of who I am.
That doesn’t change what
I’m doing in my community,
through my
organizations,
doesn’t change what I’ve done at
the Roosevelt Park neighborhood
with the ArtPrize installation
and telling the stories
of the residents that
lived there before.
Really diving deep into this
whole gentrification issue
that we have going
on in Grand Rapids…
that we kinda forget about
because of all the success
that Grand Rapids
is having.
That’s
important to me.
But it’s not important
because I decided, you know,
“Monday and Wednesday, I’m gonna
tackle community relations
“and Tuesday and
Thursday–“
it’s all part of
who I am anyway.
So it’s just another
extension of what I do.
It doesn’t necessarily have
to be a uniform kind of idea
of how you
go about it.
If that’s who I am in my core,
my work is gonna reflect
all the different facets of
who I am as a human being.
>>I went from being a person
that didn’t quite know
what she wanted to do but
knew that she had a desire
to work with people, to pursuing
a Master’s in Counseling,
and being a licensed
professional counselor, right?
So that journey, placing
myself strategically
in situations and jobs
that’s going to give me
that confirmation, right,
always looking for that.
And what– it’s what I’m
going into confirming
that this is
what I want to do.
And eventually,
it did, right?
It led me to this point to say,
“Wow, I have that degree.
“I have this
licensure.
“I’m now able to
have that exposure
“in which I want
to,” right?
And so, I coordinate
GRCC’s three-year
suicide prevention grant
here on campus.
It allows me the opportunity
to work hand-in-hand
with students in distress,
teaching in classes,
working outside in my
communities, right?
There’s a lot
of crises.
There’s a lot of crises
in our communities.
You, as college students,
what a transitional period
in your lives.
What a crucial place to be
in right now in your seats.
There’s a lot of
things going on.
Your home lives,
trying to fit in,
trying to understand what this
unclear college expectation
is of you,
right?
There’s a lot of
things happening,
there’s a lot of anxiety,
a lot of depression,
a lot of home issues going on
for you, I can just imagine.
But it’s
happening here.
So it allows me– I’ve always
been in that position
where how do I get
to be in places
where I can work
with people
at the level in which they
need that crucial help.
Right?
Before I pursued a
Master’s in Counseling,
I was working in Head Start
as a family services worker.
That particular
position allowed me
to do home visits and work
with a lot of families.
It wasn’t– although I
knew I wanted to pursue
the counseling by
that point, right,
but it wasn’t till I was
in that particular position,
where I was seeing the state
where these kids are living in.
Right, the need
that was happening,
that that really gave me the
push to say, “You know what?
“Don’t even
wait a year.
“Go for it, apply
for it right away.
“Go for that Master’s
as soon as you can.”
Because I couldn’t
be in a position
that just led me to
provide resources.
I knew that the needs
in our community,
that the needs that
these individuals
that I was servicing was more
than just providing resources.
These individuals
needed counseling,
these individuals needed
that elevated help, right?
And I couldn’t provide that
at that moment in time,
so I wasn’t
content.
I knew I had to always
ask, “What’s more?
“What’s next?
“What is next?”
And so, being a counselor is
one of the most rewarding,
rewarding positions.
It’s a ministry,
it’s not a job.
Right, I service people,
I work for you,
I work for you
all, right?
But it’s one that I have
to constantly remind myself
every morning,
“You can do this,” right?
No matter what the
day comes about,
because it’s
so unexpected.
We don’t know what tomorrow
will look like for us, right?
I always have to make
sure that I’m grounded,
that I’m taken
care of,
that I know how to
take care of myself
so that I can
help others.
So this is– I’m in the best
position I can possibly be.
This is what I’ve always
wanted for myself, right?
But again, I’m not
a miracle worker.
I can’t fix.
I’m here to guide, I’m here
to walk through life with you.
And so, this
is a journey.
This is a dual relationship
that we have with each other.
And so, being in
this position,
I’m like, “Wow, what a
great place to be,” right?
When this suicide
prevention position
came to my doorstep,
it was a scary one.
I was like, “Wait
a minute, suicide?
“Bye,”
right?
But then, I was like,
“Wait a minute, hold up.
“Take a moment,
take a deep breath.
“Why are you running
away from this position?
“And if you’re
running away from it,
“why don’t you turn back
around and head towards it?
“You don’t know
the opportunities
“that this position
may open up.
“You don’t know how many lives
you may be able to touch.”
And I did–
I took the risk.
So there are situations
and certain opportunities
that may come your way, that
may present to your doorstep
that you blatantly
will be scared.
You will ask yourself–
“No, no… why?
“Why is this
showing up to me?
“Why me?”
Right?
But I’m telling you, you have
to be able to take that leap.
You have
to fly.
You’ve got
to do it.
You don’t know what’s at the
other side of that, right?
So I work with the
best people on campus.
I don’t do
this job alone.
I recognize suicide prevention
is everybody’s business, right?
We all have a
role in this.
Saving lives is everybody’s
role, it’s not just mine, right?
And so, I bring certain
people, I connect with them.
I show up at their door,
I knock, “Hey, I’m Hilda.
“This is what I do–
let’s connect.”
Right, I look for
opportunities
as everyone here
has done before,
and that’s
what it takes.
So you have to be able
to take that risk.
Be a risk taker–
do it.
Do it.
>>Well, the impact
I’ve had in my field.
I would say the impact
I’ve had in my field.
Well, let me start
from the beginning.
As you may or may not
know, I’m a technician
for Tesla Motors and I fix and
repair Tesla automobiles daily.
And a lot of people–
you probably see it
on the news a lot,
people talk about, you know,
autonomous vehicle technology,
and electric vehicles,
and things like that.
And it’s kind of like
a scary new subject.
It’s almost like a
subcategory of automobiles.
And a lot technicians and
automotive professionals
and people like that, they
don’t know much about that.
And to them, it’s kind of,
almost like a scary new subject.
And the impact I’m
having on my field
is I get to go to other,
you know, past technicians
that I worked with,
I get to go to
automotive professionals
right here
at GRCC,
and I get to showcase
that technology to them,
I get to show them,
“Hey, this is how it works.
“This is how the
future is gonna be.”
You know, a lot of
people, you know,
might say that’s
not the future,
but 10 years ago, none
of us had one of these.
So it’s kind of a crazy new
future for the automotive world,
and I might be a small
portion of it right now,
but, you know, Tesla,
when I joined in 2010,
we only built
about 1,000 cars.
It was a very,
very small company.
Now, we’ve produced
over 220,000 cars.
So the growth in this
field is exponential.
And one thing
I’ve been talking
with the GRCC professionals,
too, here is potentially
even building, you know,
or spearheading
one of the first
electric vehicle,
autonomous vehicle courses
for the country, basically.
And that would be quite a
groundbreaking achievement
for the college,
so… yup.
>>The impact that
I’ve had, I guess,
in my community
and in my field
has been very,
I guess, versatile.
I’m very passionate
about getting people
who look and live like me to
be more civically engaged.
And as one of the parts
of an organization
who unapologetically
does that,
talks politics with
people every month.
I hop on Urban Radio
every week
and talk to listeners about
something that they probably
would’ve only heard
about on NPR otherwise.
And I use all
of my experiences
from the girl who
was living in the UP
to relating to people
in Holton, in Marquette.
And with all of those
engineering friends
and all of those
linear-minded folks
that I really enjoyed
meshing with in that setting,
to being that girl
from Benton Harbor
with a completely
different type of people,
and realizing how, with
all of my knowledge now,
to be the voice
in both spaces.
And what that looks like
as it can be someone
tuning it to 97.3 to
hear the new Kendrick
or the new Drake or
the new DJ Khaled,
and then
they hear me.
And I’m like, “Let’s talk
about gerrymandering!”
(chuckling)
And it is great.
Because what I’ve done
is just really invited
so many more people
to a conversation
that they didn’t currently
feel like they were a part of.
And it’s really
spilled over
into all these other
places in my life.
I mean, I’ll be at the movies,
in line to see “Girls Trip,”
and someone will be like,
“Yeah, I know you.
“I definitely
watch your show.
“It’s good,
yup.
“I watched the one
where you talked
“to Commissioner What’s-His-Face
and it was good.”
(laughing)
You know, and I love that!
It makes me
so happy.
So that’s probably
one of the areas
where I feel like I get
to be most impactful.
Outside of the radio
and the politics,
I believe there’s this
whole other part
of community-organizing
that has totally become
one of my super passion points
with my work at LINC UP.
LINC is integral
in so many spaces,
not just in Grand Rapids,
but all over the county.
And being a
safe space
for many of the community’s
marginalized voices
to come in and be
heard on topics
that are touchy
for them, right,
whether we’re talking
about policing,
or we’re talking
about gentrification,
or we’re talking
about food.
You know, I was sitting
at my office last week
and, you know, up comes the
Feeding America semi-truck
and there are– I mean,
you think it’s Black Friday.
There are just families
with laundry baskets
and bags all the way
wrapped around,
on the south side
of Grand Rapids.
And I thought to myself,
“I can go downtown
“and hang out for happy hour,
but I get to be a part
“of an organization that does
this,” you know what I mean?
Or I can go help
give out like potatoes
and watermelon and food to
people who really badly need it.
And primarily people
that look like, you know,
Latino residents
on the south side,
African-American residents
on the south side.
I think being a piece of LINC
is a huge impact for me.
LINC right now is in
the middle of planning
for the Community
Spirit Awards.
It’s the ninth
annual one.
Last year, we brought in
Van Jones from CNN who spoke
and really shook up some
things in Grand Rapids.
This year, we’re
bringing in Shaun King,
Black Lives Matter
activist and author,
just huge
social media maven.
And that’s one of
those projects
that I spend every
day working on.
And I love it.
I think my impact
in the community
is not just politics, it’s
not just my work at LINC
as a communications
coordinator,
but then it’s being a mom,
it’s having a one-year-old,
beautiful little
brown boy at home.
And working with him
every day to make sure
he’s comfortable in every
corner of his community.
It’s taking him with
me to go hang out
with the
commissioners,
and to go to dinner
with the board,
and Brighton is
that one-year-old
that is always
on my side,
because I believe that’s
a huge part of my impact
in the community–
it’s being a good mom.
I think, at 24, you can
get lost in all the things
that are happening
around you.
Sometimes, I just have
to turn off the news
because I will frustrate
myself and everyone around me
because I can’t fix all
the world’s problems.
And usually, that
saving grace for me
is just getting to
get on the floor
and crawl around
with a one-year-old,
and be like, “Yeah, this is
the most important impact
“that I can have in
the world right now
“and I’m okay with that,”
and I love it.
So that’s all of–
I guess in my field,
in my community, in my life,
that’s where I feel
that I see the
most impact.
And it’s a huge
blessing, so yeah.
>>Thank you,
panelists.
So we’re gonna go to
a tabletop discussion.
You’ll see a blue sheet
on your table.
If you could pick one
person at your table
to write on
that blue sheet,
and one person to
speak out about it
after this tabletop
discussion is over.
>>Give them a
round of applause.
>>Oh, yes.
(applause)
>>All right,
good afternoon.
No, no, no, no–
good afternoon!
>>(all) Good afternoon!
>>You gotta wake
up with me now!
There’s food over
there waiting,
so I know you guys
gotta wake up here.
I want to first of all thank
you guys for being here
this afternoon–
this is cool stuff.
For you to listen to
some of our students
who’ve gone through
what some of you
are going through right now,
that’s good stuff.
I’ll give you some advice on
that here in a little bit.
But would you please
again help me thank
those who were on the
panel this morning?
That was good stuff.
(applause)
You guys need to know
that we’re proud of you.
We are proud
of you
for what you mean to
not only this community,
but how you
represent GRCC.
So we are very
proud of you,
and thank you for
what you do for us.
Let me share something
with you real quick,
and I just need you
to listen to this,
’cause I need to encourage you
on a couple of things here.
So I’m gonna tell you
a story that I’ve told
several people on
this campus before.
It’s a true story.
It’s not– it wasn’t
my best moment.
But sometimes, in
your worst moments,
you learn some
lessons, okay?
So several people on campus
have heard this one.
So this goes back
several years ago,
we have two children
in our family.
My daughter Lydia is 14, our
son Lance is 22 years old.
We moved to Grand Rapids
from Oklahoma City
about two-and-a-half
years ago.
Our son Lance, who’s 22,
when he was in sixth grade,
he was getting ready– we
were actually helping him,
on his sixth grade
picnic, right,
at the end of the
school year, right?
That’s what they did– you know,
down in Oklahoma City
where we came from, that
was kind of the thing to do.
You’re getting ready to
leave elementary school,
the sixth grade, last
couple of days of school,
you have
a picnic.
And so, everyone celebrates
the fact that they’re gonna
get rid of you and you
get to go to junior high.
(audience laughing)
So my wife and I volunteered
to work the picnic.
Hundreds of sixth graders
at this huge park
getting ready to celebrate
their last few days
of sixth grade– that has
all kinds of trouble, one.
So what happened is
that it’s in late May,
and we’re there
at the park,
and we’re just kind of enjoying
and just kind of watching
what’s going on
and everything.
I see a friend of our family,
her name is Becky.
I see Becky walking
toward me, and she’s–
we’ve known Becky for a while,
so I kind of wave at Becky.
She’s coming over
toward me and she said,
“Hey, Bill,
how’s it going?”
So she walks over
to me, and as I do,
and people around
GRCC will tell you,
I usually hug everybody
I see, just about.
So hey, gotta give Becky a hug,
so I go to give Becky a hug.
As I’m hugging
her, I’m saying,
“Becky, it’s so
good to see you.”
In the last of May,
if you’re in Oklahoma,
it’s probably
very windy.
And the wind
was up that day,
and at the precise moment
that I hugged Becky,
her hair flew
into my mouth
as I’m hugging her saying,
“Becky, how are you–“
all of a sudden, hair blows
and goes into my mouth, right?
Instant
cotton mouth.
(audience chuckling)
I had gum in my
mouth that day.
(audience laughing)
It’s a true story– you
can’t make this stuff up.
(audience laughing)
I had gum
in my mouth.
And as I pulled away, kind
of coughing, trying to get–
’cause cotton mouth–
(coughing, gagging)
you know, I’m kind of going
back, and I’m going, “Hey!”
You know, I’m trying to
be cool still, you know?
“Hey, yeah, yeah,” you know,
still trying to be cool,
and I notice my gum is
no longer in my mouth.
(audience laughing)
So I’m talking to Becky
and trying to stay cool,
and I’m looking around
on the ground,
just hoping that maybe
the gum was on the ground.
And I don’t see
it anywhere.
And so, as we talked for
a few moments,
and I cannot tell you, to
this day, what we talked about
because my mind was not on
anything she was saying.
As she walked away, “Oh,
okay, good to see you, Bill.”
She walks away, and as
I watch her walk away…
there, dangling in her hair,
big white chunk of gum.
All right, I have a
decision to make here.
As she’s walking away, I’m
seeing that gum in her hair.
And the decision
is this.
She has no idea that
that just happened.
So she has no idea,
even when she finds it
’cause she will find it…
(audience laughing)
she has no idea who did it
and how it happened.
And so, I’m home free!
(audience chuckling)
If I just remain quiet,
don’t say a word,
she goes away, I enjoy
the rest of the picnic,
she gets angry however later
it takes for her to find it.
“Who did that?” and
so she’d get angry
and she wouldn’t have
any idea it was me.
I am
home free.
Or… I can
say something.
I can speak up and I can
say something to Becky,
so that I can help her
situation be better
at least for her knowing,
A, you’ve got gum in your hair
and B,
I’m sorry.
Now, here’s why I
tell you that story.
Because I think about
you as students at GRCC
when I think about what
happened to me that day.
Because let
me tell you,
it would have been very easy
for me to just stay quiet
and allow that whole situation
to just disappear
as far as my life
is concerned.
I wouldn’t have to
worry about it at all.
I could just allow
it to go away
and no one would
say anything to me.
No one would have to
confront me about it.
I could just allow
it to disappear.
Or I can speak up, and I
can say something about it.
Here’s why I
think about you.
You’re a student here
at our great college.
You can find yourself in
a situation this semester,
next semester, however
long you’re here,
you can hit one of
those semesters
where, as one of the panelists
mentioned this morning,
where life just
gets in the way.
Or where you’re not
sure about this class
and whether– “Man, I’m
struggling in this class,
“I’m not sure
what I should do.”
Or you have something
going on at home that, “Man,
“all this is going on, and I’m
trying to get this class done.”
You will actually have the
opportunity to just disappear.
And all of a sudden,
GRCC never see you again.
And for us, faculty, staff,
administration of this college,
we want to see every one
of you be successful.
As you heard four people
today are successful,
we want that for
every last one of you.
But you have, and you
will have– I promise you–
you’ll have the opportunity
to just disappear on us.
And we will sit and we’ll
hit another semester,
and we’ll say, “Now, wait a
minute, what happened to…?”
And you will
have gone.
You will have either just
stopped coming to class
because it just seems
easier just to disappear,
or you just won’t come
back the next semester
because– and it’s what a hear
all the time, “You know what?
“Dr. Pink, I just
decided I needed
“to take a semester
or two off.”
Let me warn you about taking
a semester or two off.
It’s really
easy to do that,
and much harder
to come back…
because
life happens.
I don’t want you
to just disappear.
If you have some
things going on,
whether it be at home
or in the classroom,
you’re not
sure about it,
don’t just disappear–
say something.
Say something!
You have faculty who are
all around you all the time,
you have people sitting
in this room right now
who want to say, “If you have
problems, just come see me.”
You may have heard
that already today.
I just gave my card
out to several people
around in this room
saying, “You know what?
“If you have issues, a question,
something pops up on you,
“you don’t know where to go,
don’t just disappear.
“You can email me!
“I’ll get you connected to
the people who can help you,
“but don’t
just stop.”
Because something that these
panelists said today–
two things stand
out in my mind.
Number one, the more connected
you become to this campus,
the better off you’re going
to be in getting this done.
Here’s what I mean
by “connection.”
It is getting
to know people,
it is making sure you
spend a little time
in getting to
know people.
It’s getting involved in some
of the stuff that we have,
that we offer out
of Student Life.
Just figure out what
a connection is.
It doesn’t mean you have to
be here every day, all day.
It means that you
might have to come up
sometime when you don’t
really have class,
but “Man, I’m part of
this organization,
“and I’m trying to
make a change,
“and I’m trying to do some
good things on campus.”
The more connected
you become,
the more opportunity you
will have to be successful
in your
college walk.
Be connected.
And the second thing
I heard today,
which I am so, so
happy they said…
find out what it means
to have a mentor.
Somebody who at least
can hold you accountable,
and say, “Nope, I know you think
you gotta stay in bed today
“because you’re tired– no–
but you need to get to class.”
So it’s that
accountability partner,
and it’s also
that mentor.
That person who can
push you and say,
“No, we’re gonna get
this done together.”
But also, that person
who is an adult
who has been through
some of this stuff.
You saw four people up
here who, I guarantee–
I’m gonna go ahead
and volunteer ’em–
I saw four people today who
probably would gladly say,
“You know what, yeah,
I’ll help you out.
“Just ask me.”
But that person who you can say,
“So how did you get this done?
“How did
you do it?
“Because here is the
difficulty I have–
“how did you
this done?”
Those are things, if
you want to think about
how you become successful,
being successful is intentional.
You gotta be
intentional.
You gotta just
plan it out and say,
“Here’s how I’m gonna
get this done.”
Because success
doesn’t just accident.
It just doesn’t
come as an accident.
Sometimes, “Yeah,
I won the lottery.”
Okay, yeah, you
won the lottery…
what are you gonna
do after that?
Yeah, whatever.
Your success as far as
this life is concerned,
in this economy that
you and I live in,
you gotta be
intentional.
And your intentionality
says, “I’m gonna connect
“to this campus,
“I’m gonna connect to my
education experience,
“and I’m gonna get people
who’ll help me push
“and make sure
it gets done.”
Because you are
at a college
that actually is known
all across this country.
I get the privilege of
going to different places
around this country,
and I hear–
when I say, “Well, I’m
president of GRCC,”
it’s always that, “Oh,
you’re in Grand Rapids.”
Because we have a reputation
not only nationally–
friends, we’ve got a reputation
right here in this community.
So you’re a part of a
really good college.
Get it done so you have a
sheet of paper that says,
“Graduate Grand Rapids
Community College.”
‘Cause there are people
in this area that’ll say,
“Oh, so you graduated
from GRCC?”
And you have an
opportunity at that point.
Take this thing
serious,
because you have an opportunity
to do some really cool things.
You don’t
believe me?
You just saw four people
who are living proof of it.
Now, I didn’t
come to–
I was supposed to
just close this thing.
I am so sorry.
(audience chuckling)
Okay, no,
I’m not.
I’m glad you guys
are here today.
And if there is anything
that we can do
to help you along
this journey,
because I would love
to see two things
for each one
of you today.
Two things
I want to see.
Number one, I want to see you,
one day, walk across the stage
and wearing a really
funny-looking dress,
funny-looking hat.
I want to see you walk
across the stage
and I want to be there
to shake your hand,
and say,
“Congratulations.”
I want to see you
there one day.
And the other place
I want to see you
is on a panel of GRCC alum
talking about your journey,
where you are and
where you’re going.
That’s what I want to see of
each and every one of you.
You got lunches back there–
those are box lunches.
Please give one more
hand to our people
who were on
the panel today.
(applause)
Thank you guys
for coming.
Get you
a lunch.
I appreciate you.
Raider Nation.
You’re dismissed.
(general chatter)

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