As told on his own words, this is the story of Jamir Mallory, a student from Ursinus College who overcame all sorts of personal challenges and benefitted from the support provided by others to pursue a career in education. Now he’s the one who can support and be a positive influence on others.
BORN AND RAISED IN PHILADELPHIA
“Growing up in Philadelphia, not everyone went to college, or even talked about college. It was always sports, entertainment, or illegal ways of making it out the hood. When I was young, that’s all the life I knew. I always grew up around drugs, guns, and murder. I didn’t know what college really was until I got to high school.”
GUN VIOLENCE KILLED MY FRIENDS
October 4, 2014.
“I lost my close friend Kyrell Tyler. I was at school when I found out through Instagram. He was shot several times inside his car, and the police never knew who it was. He was a popular dirtbike rider in Philadelphia, but I knew him growing up as my boxing and basketball coach. My first response to the news was to call him. I don’t know why. But that’s the first thing I did. He didn’t answer the call. I called his mother, and she answered the phone crying. At that moment, I knew that it was true. My classmates and teachers were trying to talk to me, but I couldn’t respond. It was like I had a black hole going through my head. I shutdown that day and for a while.”
December 13, 2015.
“My friend Deshon Glover passed away. A close friend told me. My life turned upside down when she told me the news. I am crying every night, and I am depressed. I started using illegal substances to cope with the pain. To the point where I didn’t even recognize myself. Deshon and I grew up together, in the same block. We were brothers. Even so, that I was with him that same day. We talked about college and moving out the neighborhood. I left around 8/9 PM. And then he dies an hour or two later. What if I would’ve stayed? Who knows what would have happened? He was an innocent victim who was shot in the middle of the street. For a while, I ignored that neighborhood. Passing through that street, I still get chills.
My loses were getting closer and closer to my heart, and I had to find a way out. The answer was by going to college. I was always going to attend college, but it was never a genuine motive.. Their fate could have easily been mine, so I knew that by going to college I could change my path. That became my drive.”
ROAD TO COLLEGE
“I went to Boys’ Latin Charter Philadelphia. It was a college prep high school, but coming in as a freshman, I didn’t know what that meant. It wasn’t until junior year when college really came to my mind. That year, I started doing research on colleges: West Virginia, Arcadia University, University of Miami, and other big schools. Senior year is when I met my college counselor, Heidi Bonner. Our relationship at first was stagnate, because in my mind she was a white woman and I was a young black male. I was not comfortable talking to her about my personal life. But she constantly pushed me to open up. Her consistency showed that she genuinely cared about me. I can say that she is one of the most important people in my life. She guided me from being a high school kid to the young man I am today. Even now, if I need anything, she will be there for me.
Months later, I get my admission letters back. The only school I didn’t get into was Lafayette. That one denial kind of discouraged me. I felt like I was good enough to get into that school too. I started to focus on my top two schools: Juniata College and Ursinus College. Juniata was giving me a full ride. Everything was grants and scholarships, none of it was loans. Even though Juniata was the cheaper option, I chose to go to Ursinus, without even visiting it, because it was closer to home. The first time I did was during orientation. When I walked into campus, I was sure this was going to be my home for the next four years.”
HEADING TO THE NEXT STEP
“Graduating from high school was a really big moment. This was a common thing in my family, but it was special for me, because I was headed into the next step, which was college.”
July 12, 2016.
“Crigler started. It’s a program that prepares underrepresented college students for college. It takes place the summer before freshman year. Stepping into campus again, hit me that I was in college. Crigler prepared me for college classes and introduced me to other minority students. I met my close Jamie Casseus friend through that program. He was my mentor throughout the whole three weeks. Even after the program. Kai Hardy was a really great mentor also. She introduced me to America Reads, which I now manage. Kai really showed me how to navigate as a young black male in a predominately white institution. However, Crigler didn’t prepare me for the reality of campus. It gave me a glimpse of college . The program consisted of minority students, which is not the case at Ursinus. It was a culture shock because I grew up in a predominately black neighborhood. I remember walking the very first day of classes and being able to count how many minorities I saw on one hand. Compared to my classmates, I presented myself differently on campus. I liked to dress comfortably while other students were dressed business casual. I didn’t feel like I fit in.
My first semester was terrible. I wasn’t going to class because I didn’t feel comfortable in the classroom. It was really weird to be the only black student in the classroom. I missed about 30 classes. The professor even emailed me concerned as to why I wasn’t showing up to class. I just kept making up excuses and saying that family stuff had came up. I ended up finishing the semester with a 2.4 GPA.
After my first semester ended, something in my head clicked to do better. Reverend Rice was a huge support to that change. He was always hard on me. At first, I hated him because I felt like he was putting me on the spot. Before break, he pulled me into his office. He told me that he saw my potential. He added on to say that he saw greatness in me, but I just needed to believe it. I cried on the spot and told him that I feel like I didn’t fit in. He asked me if I paid tuition. I answered him yes. He then said, that I own this campus just as much as any student. If I paid to come here, then this is my campus, no matter the amount I pay. I reflected on those words and was ready to take on the next semester.
During winter break, the tuition went up. I texted Rev, the day before tuition was due, that I couldn’t pay because I couldn’t afford it. He read the message and didn’t respond. I threw my phone and said fuck this, I’m not going to school. Around January, the day before school started, Reverend Rice calls me and asked if I still need to pay my tuition. I answered yes. He told me he kept me in mind, despite leaving me on read. He tells me to give him an hour and calls back 3 hours later. The first thing he says is, I’ll see you tomorrow. I responded confused. He then repeated that he’ll see me on campus tomorrow. I checked my account balance and it was zero. I tried calling him three times to thank him, but I am pretty sure he was ignoring my calls. I saw him the next day and he tells me yeah, I got your back.
March, he fell down the steps of Bomberger and was in bed rest. April came around and I was planning to visit on a Monday. Something came up, I decided to see him the next day. Tuesday, we get the email from our school’s president saying that Reverend Rice had passed away. I laughed because I thought no this isn’t true. As soon I walk put the building, everything turned into slow motion. Students all around me were looking at their phone. I look back at the email and questioned what if it’s true. All my friends came up to me, crying, saying oh my god, oh my god. Reverend Rice just died. I’m in denial. The school had organized something for him in Bomberger and I see all these black students just crying. That’s when I knew it was true. I regretted not visiting him. Ever since then, I learned to do everything in the moment. Don’t wait. You never know what is going to happen because tomorrow isn’t promised. From that day, my ambitions were through the roof.”
“I remember getting into grad school in February. My proudest moment at Ursinus. I walked into the Intuition for inclusion and equity office and all the students there clapped. Everyone there congratulated me on getting into grad school. I almost cried. It was a surreal moment. A moment that touched me was when Melissa , a friend, was willing to skip class. When she saw me, even though it was a joke, she said, you know what? Jamir didn’t get into graduate school so I can skip class. She went to class. That made me realized that my accomplishment wasn’t just for me, it was for everyone. I felt like my accomplishment can be an inspiration for others.
The rest of my senior year was supposed to be the best semester yet. During spring break, I get the email that says class has been postponed and will resume in two weeks. I’m like okay, whatever. Later in the week I get an email that says commencement is postponed, and school is going to be online. I opened it and when I read it the world turned upside down. I cried in the car. I had to spend my senior year through online classes and not have graduation. I wanted to enjoy my last weeks with everyone. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to nobody. Who knows when I will get to see my friends again. Since everyone is going in their own path of life.
I didn’t get the opportunity to graduate, to walk across the stage and hear my name be called. I would have been the first in my family to graduate college. That was my dream for the past five years. And to have that taken away is like it ripped everything inside of me. The school is trying to make a virtual graduation, but I have no emotions towards it. My friends and family were excited about my graduation and kept asking me for the date. Walking across that stage was for my family, for my future family, for the ones that couldn’t graduate, and for the ones that didn’t got to college. Even though I am still getting my diploma, I just cared for the ceremony.”
THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
“I was bummed about graduation canceling for pretty much a month. At the same time remote learning was happening, graduate school is calling me up too. I’m going to Westchester for grad school for higher education policy in student affairs. I also get a call from them about a graduate assistantship in their Dowy Multicultural center, which is a multicultural office. They are paying me to go to school. I’m one foot in at Ursinus, and one foot in at Westchester. So, I’m just ready to have both feet into my next chapter. I attended this Brothers of Excellence Conference at Westchester through Patrick Robinson. I can say that conference really changed my mentality in leadership when I had so many leadership positions and didn’t know how to lead. It was targeted for young minority men and it touched so many important topics like toxic masculinity, financial freedom, and how-to self-love. I’m going from being the student in the chair listening, to one being upfront preaching. Its crazy how life turns out. Even though corona did ruin my graduation, my grad school graduation is going to be even more meaningful.”
Jamir Mallory was born in West Philadelphia and this is the reason for his pursue of education. As an undergrad student at Ursinus College, where he majored in Sociology, he performed important leadership roles at American Reads and as a Crigler head RA. Now he is going to attend West Chester University for graduate school, studying Higher Education Policy and Student Affairs. He will also act as a graduate Assistant for the Dowy Multicultural Center. He is enthusiastic to begin his new journey mentoring minority students attending his new school. This will include arranging the Brothers of Excellence Conference in which he once participated as a student. He has many more plans to become a reliable source for students with potential that need the push.
Jamir attributes his success to the mentors that saw his potential. Despite being a quiet leader, he can surprise anyone by his powerful actions. He knows that he was meant to guide other minority students to achieve excellence. A strong-willed person, passionate enough to change someone’s ambition in life to turn paths. He knows where his confidence can take him and shares his achievements for others to follow.
COVID-19 was just another obstacle in his life that he overcame. In his hardships, he brings pride into his community in breaking the cycle and stereotypes as a young black male. •