Courri’s personal trajectory inspires him
to help others achieve their college degree.
I wasn’t “supposed” to make it. Society had told me—and others who looked like me—the chances of making it to college was slim. Despite the accelerated rate at which I had learned and performed inside the classroom, countless academic counselors questioned whether I had what it takes to thrive, or even survive, at the next level.
I remember clear as day, one middle-aged Caucasian woman–a middle school admissions counselor for a rigorous public school in southern California–telling my mom, “so many students like your son do well academically before they come here, but aren’t successful in their transition.”
I was offended. “She didn’t know me, so how could she judge my potential?” Then I remembered what my aunt had mentioned to me since I was 7 years old:
You can do whatever you want to do. You can be the first in our family to go and graduate from college. Other people will say you can’t do it, but you can!
Her voice, echoed constantly by my mother’s, stayed in my head as I navigated middle and high school, thriving in the accelerated learning programs. It impacted how I spoke, studied, and viewed myself as a young black man in America. My adult-self appreciates the guidance I received as I worked to shift the perception of higher education for my family. My aunt was especially influential here, making me promise time and time again that I would show resolve and make college a reality.
My family taught me that hard work and drive are necessary to “be somebody” and survive in this world. My aunt had come to symbolize hard work and honor for our family through her vision, success in her career at the U.S. Postal service, and her no-nonsense approach to making things happen; for me, she was the epitome of “strength”.
The summer before my sophomore year in high school, I learned that even the strongest and most driven people can fall. My aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her prognosis was not promising. Though she battled the cancer with chemo, radiation, and a double mastectomy, doctors had given her only months to live. As she began to say her goodbyes, I distinctly remember my aunt using what must have been all of her strength to pull me to her bedside. It was there, on her deathbed, where she asked me to promise her that I would go to college and graduate…for myself and for our family. Teary-eyed, I not only promise that I’d go to college, I promised to go to UCLA—a great school near home to signal quite clearly that “we can do this!” to my family—and that I would graduate.
Just one year later, after the exhausting college application process had concluded, I came home to find the mail strewn on the ground near our mail slot. I turned over a large envelope addressed to me with my four favorite letters: UCLA. I delivered on one promise I made to my aunt. I got into a great (really, the best) school, and could now work to fulfill my promise of finding a way to graduate.
Navigating a large institution like UCLA was not easy, but I received sound advice from several university administrators with backgrounds similar to mine. They stressed the importance of finding mentors, and—most important for me to hear—to not solely look for mentors who were also Black. I gravitated towards student involvement through residence life, a student affairs field abundant in caring, giving mentors and advisers. The advice, coaching, and development I received from these wonderful souls who did not look like me was simply transformative for me. It was through these experiences that I knew that I wanted to be able to coach and help others in a similar way. I’d experienced the benefits of having people believe in and challenge me. It’s real, and I’m not sure how I would have made it through to graduation without them.
June 19, 2004 is the day I looked to the heavens to thank my aunt for all she had done for and meant to me. Walking across the stage as a college graduate was a testament to the love and guidance she instilled in me since childhood. My mom and I wept in remembrance of her. We then looked at one another as to say, “It’s time do something with this accomplishment.”
My success at UCLA allowed me an opportunity to challenge and support students at Chico State University for nearly seven years as a higher education administrator while concurrently earning an MBA. I then leveraged my degree to get a job working at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in executive education. After three years of supporting the on-going learning for corporate executives of Fortune 1000 companies, I now have experiences working directly with corporate leaders conducting strategic communications consulting. In each of my professional roles since 2004 I have been committed to finding ways to support the lifelong learning.
It is this culmination of experiences that has brought me to ReUp Education. My career success simply would not have been possible without getting to and through college to earn my degree. I understand firsthand how valuable and impactful it can be emotionally and financially. As a college success coach, it’s now my turn to help others begin to find both meaning and value through their own collegiate journey.