“Education is the Great Equalizer”

Soon after we were all sitting in the living room and chatting in Inayat’s house, a knock came from the door and two African American males entered. Inayat introduced Anthony and Ian to us – they were half-brothers who were originally from Florida. Anthony was wearing a red ECKO sweatshirt and I thought he may have played football since he had a big upper body. Ian was a little shorter than his brother and was wearing a black Fox Racing sweatshirt and seemed a little softer spoken than Anthony. Both had converted to Islam, with Ian following his older brother’s footsteps.

During the time in Inayat’s house I did not interact much with the two brothers, but when we went to the restaurant I ended up sitting next to them which provided the perfect opportunity to get to know them more. I asked Anthony if he was a fan of the Orlando Magic or the Miami Heat. “Neither,” he said, explaining he wasn’t a big sports fan. I told him that surprised me since he was black. We both shared a laughed, and I knew this was acceptable to say since Anthony was poking fun at this earlier in Inayat’s house. I then asked Anthony what activities he was into – with his reply being gymnastics, since exercises such as hanging on the rings works out all parts of his upper body.

Anthony had studied nuclear engineering at the University of Florida and Ian had just come back home after serving in the military. The brothers made it clear that they were not rich when they grew up, and they were different from the stereotypical “black people.” Ian would get mocked for not listening to traditional rap songs but instead other bands such as Linkin Park and Greenday. In 8th grade he even got into a fight regarding this with another black student inside a bus. Ian ended up bashing the kid’s head through a bus window, and although the fight had ended there, the criticism Ian received didn’t stop. The brothers were okay being different though, and their mother was always there to keep them in line. “If I don’t beat you now, the cops will beat you later,” Anthony recalls his mother saying to him and his brother.

Living in an environment where many kids displayed no bright futures and ended up doing nothing meaningful with their life, I admire the courage of Ian and Anthony to be resilient. Anthony realized early that working hard in high school could get him somewhere, and it did. He graduated as the valedictorian of his school and received scholarships to attend the University of Florida.

“I wish I could have done what my brother did in high school,” Ian says. If he could go back to his freshmen self in high school and tell him one thing, it would be to apply himself in high school so he could get scholarships like Anthony and go straight to college. Although Ian didn’t graduate with as high of honors as Anthony, he realized working in the military for three years would be his best option. Now he is done serving the military and ready to go back to school to major in computer engineering. His GI Bill will pay for his full education, and he plans on attending school wherever Anthony goes for his PhD so the two brothers can be together.

The brothers seemed very close to each other, and maybe that is because they don’t have many other people around them. Anthony explained to me how their family isn’t like the Desis. They are a total of three brothers, a few aunts and uncles are in their family, and their mom was with them until she passed away last year. Despite everything these brothers may have gone through, they are still very humble, polite, and have a friendly personality. Anthony realized working hard in high school could change his life and was able to earn a college degree on scholarship. Although Ian admitted he didn’t work as hard as Anthony may have, I still believe he is on the right path now that he has the money to start college and learn more about his interest of computers. Maybe out of 10 kids in their neighborhood, Ian and Anthony are the two who will get out of the neighborhood and make something of themselves. I think they will look back on their life and although they had a steeper slope to climb, the pride they will feel at the top will be immeasurable. I am really happy I was able to meet them today and they reminded me of Horace Mann and his quote, “Education is the great equalizer.”