Written by Zacch Estrada-Petersen
UNC Charlotte senior Darnel James wants to change the world. But he has a unique approach to do so. He doesn’t want to run for political office to get it done. And he doesn’t want to change the hearts and minds of all mankind…only their eyes.
For James, a Biology major/Chemistry minor, he’s looking forward to optometry school post-grad, followed immediately by a stint with the Peace Corps, preferably on a medical assignment.
“The goal is for me to go to optometry school, and then go to the Peace Corps and help out in a third-world country for two years,” says James. “And then after that, to continue to serve in an underdeveloped area of the world.”
James’ mother hails from a poor community on a Caribbean island nation, so he knows firsthand the effect poverty can have on a family – especially when it comes to receiving proper medical treatment.
“My whole family is from Trinidad & Tobago,” says James, “And that’s where my culture is from. So my heart and soul is deeply embedded in a third-world country. These are really underserved populations, and they’re just really not receiving the help or the healthcare that they need.”
Despite his aspirations, James admits this wasn’t initially his career path of choice. However, his family suffered a number of financial hardships throughout his life, and often teetered below the poverty line. He chose this field to make sure he wouldn’t have to experience the same difficulties as an adult.
“In the beginning I can’t say I was too excited about optometry or medicine,” says James. “But I made sure I chose a profession that had some guarantee of success. I had to mentally force myself to say ‘Hey, I need to do more for myself,’ and I had to make sure that my family and I would never be caught up in these circumstances again.”
As an African-American male, James knows and understands the challenges to upward mobility that are uniquely faced by his demographic. They can be especially compounded when poverty is an added factor.
My Mom has worked two to three jobs at a time since I was born. It was very hard growing up, and it got to a point where I felt like I was stuck in these circumstances. I felt like there was no one we could turn to to help us out of them. So I certainly see how Black men can get caught up in the cycle. Of course there are several Black men who are doing what they need to do, who are in the right positions, and who are really pushing us forward. But then again I do recognize that there are a lot of African-American males who maybe aren’t doing as much. Maybe they feel as they though they can’t, because of the situations they’re in.
Difficult though it may be, James has a plan. And he’s ready to see it through.
The My Brother’s Keeper Scholarship at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte is an endowment fund targeted to Black males majoring in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields at UNCC. The "What They See Is What They'll Be" blog series, adopted from the motto of 100 Black Men of America, is a bi-weekly blog series featuring personal stories of Black men from the UNCC community who are actively engaged in those fields. The goal of the series is to serve as a source of information and inspiration to others aspiring to follow similar career paths. To learn more, or to contribute to the endowment fund, visit www.unccmybrotherskeeper.org.