Biography: Carzet Wheeler McKenzie
Black Los Angeles County Client Coalition, Inc.
Carzet Wheeler McKenzie: retired from Fidelity National Title Company after 10 years as a ‘Super Search’ Instructor. Now a 62 years old Educated Senior Citizen with an Associated Arts Degree in Human Services at San Bernardino Valley College. Living her life like its golden after receiving a gold rope and gold tassel that represents a 4.0 GPA. Who is now Upward Bound attending the University of Cal State San Bernardino to obtain a Master’s Degree in Sociology.
Frederick Douglass who was a slave on a plantation with a life sentence with no possibility for freedom, he received a mere morsel of education from the Mistress Hughes that ignited a ray of hope for knowledge yet, “education and slavery were incompatible with each other” (Douglass, 1845). He had to find a strategy that would allow him to learn more without bringing attention to himself.
Douglass was witty and clever but the risk of knowing how to read and write as a slave could result in being whipped, sold to another plantation or death. Frederick Douglass used white people young and old to become educated. By challenging their intellect and appearing ignorant he was able to quench his thirst for knowledge, adapting methods like; giving poor starving white children bread to learn how to read (in which he called the “Bread of Knowledge) was ingenious. This helped his ability to continue receiving an education, after he was told it was forbidden. Striving for a higher education Douglass also knew he must learn how to write. To accomplish this feat Douglass secretly used the young Master Hugh’s school copy books. With this knowledge he was able to eventually escape, become free and write about it. Fredrick Douglass’s determination to become educated has inspired me to continue my education and obtain a MA in Sociology.
Like Douglass I also learned at an early age the importance of receiving an education when you are not allowed to attend school. I became pregnant at the age of fifteen. My mother who is thirty years older and was a “sharecropper,” sent me away to live with my older sister because I was not married. In the 1960’s it was also considered taboo for women to come out the house if she was “showing.” My daughter was born premature and weight only three pounds. With the care and attention she needed, I could not go back to school. I had received only a ninth grade education, and living in Compton, California without a high school diploma was a form of social slavery. My life was like a prison sentence; to live in poverty, with no ambition or hope for independence. Like Douglass, I had just enough spark for knowledge to seek the light at the end of the tunnel.
When my daughter became two years old I was determined to have a better life, I applied for a job at a fast food restaurant. After two weeks (one paycheck) I knew I needed a higher education to leave Compton.
A white supervisor at the youth employment office informed me about the “John F. Kennedy
Program for High School Dropouts.” She stated that, I would have to change my “afro hair style,” by straitening it to participate. In the 1970’s there was a Black awareness movement, in Los Angeles, California that involved the Black Panthers who wore afros; they were considered militant. Although I was not a member of the Black Panthers, I was a strong believer of Black pride. My friends stated, “When ‘white people’ ask you to straighten your hair, it is discrimination.” Desperate and determined I decided changed my appearance; I was not going to allow a hair style to keep me ignorant. I enrolled in the program and because I was also a teenage mother; my daughter qualified for child care at a public school. Through the John F. Kennedy program I was educated. I received a GED and was trained to take civil service exams. When I became eighteen I was hired as a typist clerk and worked for fifteen years for the Department of Public Social Services, in the city of Compton, CA. Just as Douglass education resulted in him becoming a writer. I became a welfare employee, and not a welfare recipient!
An opportunity to learn comes in many forms it can be the “bread of knowledge,” (Douglass, 1845) from a slice of bread or changing your appearance to become independent. The road to higher education is traveled by doctors, lawyers, and CEO’s who take advantage of suppressions by reversing their outcome. These strategies and perseverance is the glue that holds us together during the journey. To obtain a MA I’m now using the advice from a “white” counselor and applied for the “over sixty tuition exemption” at the University of Cal State San Bernardino to continue my education. Because forty years later I also, know a Master’s Degree is an important document that defines our social status. I know that education comes by capitalizing on obstacles and changing them into opportunities. In spite of my mental challenges that tries to dim my light.
I will remember the life of Frederick Douglas who challenged the darkness of his mind. With the motivation I receive from my family and friends, and the knowledge and wisdom, from my mentor Dr. Lugenia Horton. With my grey hair, straiten or wearing an afro; I will receive a MA in Sociology and then I will “Say it LOUD, I’m Black and I’m Proud” (Brown, 1968).
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