William Greenlaw & Dion Greenlaw


william greenlaw & dion greenlaw

Roots, passion, drive

William’s father, Dion shares with his son what he hopes his son has learned.

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Family educational history

Gabby: Daughter
Catherine: Mother

Catherine: I’d have to say ‘cause I was kind of the black sheep and rebel of the family, you know, my, my sister and my brothers were, all of them did very well in school, finished high school, got their education, and I was like, “Woo, I’m playing hooky,” and, um, for me I think it was more because I was just that type of personality, that I didn’t take well to authority or being told what to do. So, for me, going to school was like, “Ehhh, I don’t need to do that,” and I just did my own thing. [Chuckles.]

Gabby: Can you tell me more about what those things were?

Catherine: Just pretty much I preferred to just kind of, I would be driven to school by my older brother – your Uncle Warren – and instead of going to school I would just walk home and go stay home and watch TV or – this was as a teenager not as a little, littler kid now – but once I got to kind of that 7th, 8th grade, 12, 13 year age, to me, I would’ve rather hung out with my friends who were getting into the same trouble I was, and I didn’t really care about school, I just didn’t have it in me at the time.

Gabby: Um, how can you say that that’s changed – or would you say that that’s changed over the years, and why do you think that is?

Catherine: We-well, it’s changed a lot because I, um, I do have some, you know, I have somewhat of a college education so I, I did go to school for a couple of years, I –

Gabby: That was at a community college, right?

Catherine: Yes. I went back to school when um my two oldest, your sisters Missy and Tiffany were babies and really little, got my GED [General Educational Development test], and then started college classes. And I kind of was on and off and on and off with it, but a lot of that was because I was still having, you know, at that time I was just starting to have kids. There’s five of youse, so it was like school and work and then back to school and then giving up school to go back to work ‘cause I really didn’t have a choice at that time. Hence, why I probably should’ve finished my education when I was younger, and I probably would not have struggled so much when you guys were growing up, you know? I wish I would’ve finished, I love, I would love to go back to school.

Note about copyright, attribution, and citation:  StoryCorps holds the copyright to the audio recordings of interviews and to the photographs of the participants; StoryCorps has licensed limited use of those to the Bureau of Study Counsel/Harvard University.  Harvard University owns the copyright to all other material on the First-Gen Voices website (bsc.harvard.edu/first-gen-voices).  Quotations of the transcripts and translations of interviews from the website by parties other than StoryCorps and the Bureau of Study Counsel should be attributed/cited as follows: “This excerpt is from a website created by the Bureau of Study Counsel of Harvard University with interviews recorded by StoryCorps (www.storycorps.org), a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity's stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”

 

 


william greenlaw & dion greenlaw

“This is about your life”

William describes his experience of getting into and being at Harvard.

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“This is about your life”

William:  Son
Dion:  Father

Dion: Only questions I'm asking is How you doing here?  

William:  Oh, yeah, I’m uh –

Dion:  Which, I can still, when I talk to you, it’s like – whoosh.

William:  Oh, yeah, how am I doing here?  I mean, do want me to like start from when I got here?

Dion:  Well, when you first got here, yeah, that'd be a good start.

William:  Yeah. Uh, huh.  I mean I was pretty excited to get in.  Uh, I mean, I never, I didn’t think that I wasn’t going to get in, and that's that sounds really cocky, really it does, but it’s, it’s not in that fashion, it's that I. I felt that I had been duly prepared by the education system. Had been supported very well and had worked very hard, and so I'm very well qualified to get in. That was my thinking. And so I didn't, I didn’t come here thinking that I was any less than anybody. I didn’t come here you know with a chip on my shoulder and I was just as good you know as my colleagues on campus. And in many ways I exceed them in you know in different facets that I specialize in. When I got here it was little bit of a you know, a little bit of a jump, ‘cause like, you know, I live with a roommate but it's not that big a deal, but it’s that you not there physically, and neither is my mother. And so while things, you know, a lot of things are provided for me, it's like it's not the same as having you physically there to talk to you about things in person. And they were all relegated to phone calls.

Dion:  Yeah.

William:  It became a little difficult because, I needed to make sure I was staying focused on, you know, the present and moving forward while balancing, you know, keeping contact at home. And so –

Dion:  That’s something, I – I cut you off – that’s something that I had to realize. That um, you need that space. I’m not knowing your scheduling. I'm used to being able to call you up, Hey, William, What are you doing?  Where are you going?  What d’you, what d’you have to have? You know, what you need?  What you want?  What you gotta do? How’s your day going? Hey, did you eat today? Did you get some sleep today?

William:  That’s still a question.

Dion:  Hey, you know, did you get a chance to work out? How’s your girlfriend?  Are you dating?  All those things, all those things and, um, forgetting that you have a schedule, and you have your own schedule in life. And, even today, yesterday, actually I realized how schedule-ly orientated you are about scheduling things, about, I gotta do my homework this time, I got a break for this, I gotta break for that. It’s like holy smokes –

William:  Yeah, it’s pretty rigid.

Dion:  Yeah, I was telling Arvella, my wife, your stepmom now, that, man, this man is is, he’s got everything scheduled, and she was telling me you know that’s the way you should do things, and and he's, he's doing it the right way, that she's bringing that to me, telling me that, you know, that's that's what, how you do stuff, and I'm thinkin’, “But I am his dad. I'm above any schedule that there is!” But I have to realize, and I'm getting to realize more and more, this is about your life. Your life is going to be something that you choose for you. And that's the way actually it’s supposed to go. It’s something that me and your mom have put into you that this is about your life, and putting that into you, I forget that, yes, this is about your life, it’s not about, about me feeling warm and cozy about okay, well he's okay, you know. You gotta do your thing.

Will:  You know, I honestly often felt really bad about it. I felt like I was neglecting everybody, and so it was a you know constant struggle, like mentally, to like, you know, discipline myself to focus on the work while –

Dion:  Well, I'm glad you did. I'm glad.  A lot of people wouldn’t make that choice, I've seen a lot of people choose to constantly reach back to everyone and lose focus of what they were going forward to. And you can't reach back and please everyone. And you'll lose focus so you decided to go forward. It’s okay to reach back talk and to someone, hang out, shoot the breeze. But you have to continue to go on. And, yes, it’s a struggle but, you got tough skin. Well, you have you have to deal with some things. And, suck it up. [Laughter.]

Note about copyright, attribution, and citation:  StoryCorps holds the copyright to the audio recordings of interviews and to the photographs of the participants; StoryCorps has licensed limited use of those to the Bureau of Study Counsel/Harvard University.  Harvard University owns the copyright to all other material on the First-Gen Voices website (bsc.harvard.edu/first-gen-voices).  Quotations of the transcripts and translations of interviews from the website by parties other than StoryCorps and the Bureau of Study Counsel should be attributed/cited as follows: “This excerpt is from a website created by the Bureau of Study Counsel of Harvard University with interviews recorded by StoryCorps (www.storycorps.org), a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity's stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”


william greenlaw & dion greenlaw

“Lifting as you climb”

William shares his worldview about the importance of giving back to those who have helped you succeed and helping others in the future.

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“Lifting as you climb”

William:  Son
Dion:  Father

William:  It's I guess as this relates to being like a first generation-college student I, I don't know sometimes I feel like like I'm an anomaly. ‘Cause we just talked about this –

Dion:  Yeah, we did earlier.

William:  Where like, I have a unique situation in which, the current state of America isn’t very supportive of people who don't have illustrious, well-educated, or high-income background. I think high-income backgrounds, but I was good enough to have a supportive family and a good church and a good set of school systems. Both private and public.

Dion:  Well you got that, that's. When you, when we just talked about that, and I was saying that it’s up to the individual.

William:  Exactly.

Dion:  A lot of them are not in a lot of different communities and, and a lot of the communities some people don't realize that, yeah, you can go outside

William:  Exactly, exactly.

Dion:  of the community to get it, they get caught up in just trying to survive in the community that they're in and don't realize that you don't have to be that same person that just walks down the sidewalk and can tell you well, this happened on this corner and this happened on that corner. You can say what's happening around the world.

William:  Exactly.

Dion:  And you need to go out and try to find that.

William:  Right, right.  And you know, I'm not discounting, you know, my own individual ability because I do work very hard. I do my best to work hard in everything I do but I don't wanna, I don’t wanna forget you know all the help that I had because I know like they that legendary gaffe Barack Obama had, you remember that?  So he was like, ”Ahhh you didn’t build that, somebody helped you do it.” And like I realize like that's awful optics, but that’s not what he meant.

Dion:  Yes.

William:  He’s not, he's not, he's not try to take your achievements from you. He’s saying, Yes, your hard work is very important. But it's important to, you know, recognize the work of people who have helped you be in a position where your hard work actually matters. And you know I, I do my best suit to recognize that and so, I don't know, I feel like I know a lot of first-generation students on campus, and –

Dion:  How does that make you feel? Once you, once you realize that that there are so many other first generations here, and so many of ‘em are still trying to continue to push on, do you decide that okay, well, that was first generation that we are gonna build on that and continue to grow or just say okay well we’re first generation then that's the way it’s gonna go?

William:  Oh, yeah, no way, no way.

Dion:  We’re going through something where I work at and we have something that’s going on and we have first generations goin’ through the steel mill area, and it’s very difficult for the first generation, especially young blacks, to go through the steel mill area because of the things that’s going on.  That’s very difficult time, and I’m just wondering, how does, how does that make you feel being first generation.

William:  Yeah, uh, that’s, yeah, I mean, it bugs me that I have like, a set of hardcore advantages above other people sometimes.

Dion:  Okay.

William:  But I mean I wouldn't trade the advantages away, I’m not, I’m not trying to –

Dion:  Good.  You earned ‘em.

William:  Exactly, you know in many ways I have.

William: I mean, it is it just makes me feel like, uh. This line that I heard from Cornel West, remember when I talked to Cornel West? He, he said that it's important as you as you achieve that help other people, like lifting as you climb.

Dion:  Yes.

William:  And so, you know I mean, I do wanna run for office, you know that.

Dion:  Yes, that’s true.

William:  And I mean when I get there the whole purpose is to get there and help people

Dion:  Yeah.

William:  so you know they, can make it, too. I don’t wanna leave anybody behind. [In tears.] That's why I wanna do it.  I just see, I see so many people not being able to make it. And I can. So, so I’m trying to work hard to make sure I can be in a position to help people make it. That’s all I want. I’m not interested in some petty popularity contest. I don’t care if my name’s in lights.

Dion:  Right.

William:  Just, I wanna be in a position to help people. That’s all I want. So it really bothers me. ‘Cause like. Because I know a lot of people, don’t, like they, they hit so many barriers.

Dion:  And they cave in.

Dion:  Exactly, you know, ‘cause it's like. Like, I I'm aware of racism.

Dion:  Of course.

William:  I'm very aware racism, but there are few uh situations in which a very significant barrier has hit me that would change my world view ‘cause I'm not, I haven't been hit with irrational cynicism because of my situation. I haven’t been hit with a group of people who are you know doing their best to stop me and wherever I have been there are have been people helping me.  And I know people don’t have that.

Note about copyright, attribution, and citation:  StoryCorps holds the copyright to the audio recordings of interviews and to the photographs of the participants; StoryCorps has licensed limited use of those to the Bureau of Study Counsel/Harvard University.  Harvard University owns the copyright to all other material on the First-Gen Voices website (bsc.harvard.edu/first-gen-voices).  Quotations of the transcripts and translations of interviews from the website by parties other than StoryCorps and the Bureau of Study Counsel should be attributed/cited as follows: “This excerpt is from a website created by the Bureau of Study Counsel of Harvard University with interviews recorded by StoryCorps (www.storycorps.org), a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity's stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”

first-gen voices

First Gen Voices

The Bureau of Study Counsel collaborated with StoryCorps to record conversations between first-generation-to-college Harvard College juniors and their parents (or other members of their family or community).

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