Deleted Scene 1 – In Search of Blackness: Randal’s College Transition Causes an Identity Transition

Removed from the Beginning of Strategy 1
Partially Combined with Deleted Scene #3 and Placed in Strategy 1 as a Callout Box

During my first semester at Rutgers, I walked in predominantly white circles and predominantly Black circles with dramatically different levels of ease. The former represented a world I was all too accustomed to from my years growing up in a largely white neighborhood. The latter represented a world I desperately wanted to connect with at a deeper level despite limited interactions with Black peers in my hometown.

I wasn’t looking to divorce myself from my white friends. They were all great friends, but I still felt like there was something missing in my life. Instead, I was hoping to establish a wider range of friendships with Black people. This tension I felt inside was more than just your typical adolescent struggle to “fit in.” It also reflected unresolved issues related to my identity — my conception of who I am. I found it difficult to fully define myself with very few meaningful relationships with peers who looked like me. I wanted to find more balance with the hope of finding myself and I figured college was my last chance to do it.

I didn’t connect with a group of Black students right away. When Friday night rolled around and Black students were hanging out together studying or socializing, I was hopping on a bus, by myself, and heading to the parties I was told I would find at the fraternity houses on College Avenue.

In high school I was one of the more popular people. I was always invited to parties and had lots of friends. Now, for the first time in my 18 years, I was alone — looking for friends and a place to belong.

When I got the door of the big, white-frame house with its Greek letters emblazoned on the front I knocked. Rock music was blasting. Inside I found a sea of young, white college students standing around, talking and drinking beer. With my chocolate-brown complexion and 6’4’’ frame, there was no way I wasn’t going to stick out — but that was OK. This environment wasn’t totally new for me. I had been the only brother in most of the parties I’d attended during my high school days in East Windsor. Although I didn’t drink — I’ve never cared for alcohol — I comfortably hung out and partied in high school with friends who did.

I found a conversation — small talk mostly. What’s your name? Where are you from? What’s your major? I moved from person to person and from group to group for a while, and after some time I head a few doors down to the next party. I basically hung out until a few hours passed and then headed to the bus stop to go back to my dorm. Alone.

A similar sequence of events repeated itself for many weekends of my first semester freshman year. I was socializing in the same kinds of settings that I had become accustomed to back home.

Could I have found friends and fun along College Avenue? Sure I could have. But at that point in my life, probably before I even realized it, my heart was expanding in a different direction. What I found on College Avenue, well, at 18, frankly did not interest me. What I was yearning for was an opportunity to explore who I was, with people who were more like me. And as I sought out ways to make this transition, my identity began to evolve right before my eyes.

I will never forget the first meeting I attended of the Rutgers chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. As I looked out into the all-Black room of students, I felt anxious, apprehensive, and to some extent optimistic. I was nervous because I was worried whether I would be accepted yet, at the same time, I was hopeful that this could be the beginning of an important new chapter in my life.

I sat down, almost in the middle of the room. There was a guy sitting next to me and he looked like he didn’t know too many people either. He turned to me and said, “Hi. I’m Jeff Robinson.”

Jeff, who I later came to know as JR, told me he was from Parsippany, New Jersey. We continued to talk and had a really good rapport for an initial meeting. It became clear that we had a lot in common. We grew up in similar neighborhoods, attended similar high schools and had similar interests.

That immediate connection with JR and that Rutgers NSBE meeting planted a seed that would grow into close relationships with other African Americans, African Caribbeans and Africans, that continue to this day. Of all those relationships that began as a result of NSBE, JR and I formed a special bond. Today, he is my closest friend, business partner and collaborator. Our connection from that day was a validation of where we had come from, and a reinforcement of where we were headed. Not only did I get academic and professional support from JR and my fellow NSBE members, but I also learned about Black history and Black culture in a way that instilled pride in my people, shaped my identity as an African American, and ultimately helped me become the man I am today.

The Randal Pinkett that graduated from Rutgers was a much different person than the one that first arrived on campus. I was a better person with a different walk, talk, style and sense of self. I resolved my inner tension and found the balance I was searching for. I finally felt complete.

Randal’s first semester at Rutgers offers a brief lens into a process we all undergo to establish who we are — to form our identity. As evidenced in Randal’s story, it is through a combination of introspection and interactions with the world that we iteratively define and redefine (or negotiate) our identity. It is arguably a never-ending process.

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