Zacch Estrada-Petersen, Founder, My Brother's Keeper Scholarship Endowment Fund, UNCC

Zacch Estrada-Petersen, Founder, My Brother's Keeper Scholarship Endowment Fund, UNCC

I’ve been preaching the gospel of Wes Moore ever since I read his first book two years ago – the aptly titled “The Other Wes Moore”. A little bit of abridged background on the book: Wes Moore grew up in a high-poverty Baltimore neighborhood in a single parent home, rebelled, and was faced with a number of the same obstacles other youth in similar situations contend with.

Eventually, Moore straightened up, excelled in school, graduated from Johns Hopkins University and was getting ready to set off for Oxford University in England on a coveted Rhodes Scholarship. Right around the same time, he read in the local newspaper that a man was going to prison for the rest of his life for the murder of a cop. On top of the fact that the man was also Black, grew up in the same city, was roughly the same age, and came from a nearly identical background, his name was also – you guessed it – Wes Moore.

Long story short, Moore took it upon himself to begin writing the other man in prison, attempting to figure out how two people with the same background and even the same name could end up taking such divergent paths in life.

And so goes the book.

But my point for mentioning this is simple: far too often we allow the circumstances of our birth to decide our own future goals. We assume that since we grew up poor, we will probably die poor. We assume because our parents never went to college, we’ll probably never go to college. What we often fail to realize is that we write our own stories and choose our own destinies.

In the decade-plus that I’ve been working with and mentoring college students, I find that so many of them choose degree programs with very low potential for post-graduate financial freedom, not because they’re passionate about those respective fields, but because they lack the confidence to aim bigger and higher – so they choose the low-hanging fruit.

I often meet very successful people who, seemingly by nature, produce very successful offspring. But I also meet very successful people who come from extremely disadvantaged and impoverished backgrounds – proof that it is possible to rise above your past.

This week Nelson Mandela would have celebrated his 98th birthday. He was the epitome of everything I mentioned above – having served 27 years in a South African prison for protesting apartheid, only to turn around and serve the country as its president. It’s only fitting that I leave you with his words: “Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.”

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.  To learn more, or to contribute to the endowment, visit