Being Noah Tesfaye #13: 4:44, The Most Important Album of This Past Year

The first time I listened to 4:44 by JAY-Z, I was lying in my bed in my dorm at Columbia. My roommate was sound asleep, like usual, and I decided to hit play at midnight on June 30th, hoping this album could be everything I anticipated it could become. I played “Kill JAY-Z,” thought it was interesting, but soon after, I fell asleep, with the album still playing…

I woke up later that morning and decided to play it from start to finish going to get breakfast and some good cold brew from UP Coffee Co. Initially, the first impression I had of listening to this album was that it was too short for me to ever enjoy. But, to take advantage of my Tidal free trial, I played it again, and again, and again, and again. I also downloaded a free copy as part of the Sprint promotion where Shawn gave away a million free copies. I don’t know what happened but I think it was the time I started discussing the album with my friends before class. I didn’t know quite the impact it would have on my life for the rest of the year.

That weekend, I exclusively played the album, memorizing the lyrics, interpreting every single bar that was there. And then it hit me. I realized that out of nowhere, this album was my favorite album. Ever. I didn’t understand why. Maybe it was the Nina Simone samples, or the simple drum breaks, or the punchy, punctual bass. But there was one thing I couldn’t get over: the lyrics. Now, I understand that his lyrics aren’t hard to understand. They’re not suppose to be super difficult to understand. What made me appreciate the album so much was his ability to just speak the truth of his own life. His experience being black, the two competing minds of Shawn vs Jay, family feuds, and his legacy. No one I had heard has had this kind of sincerity that I felt came from his lyrics. I have listened to a lot of great music, going all the way back from Rakim, to Tupac, to Cole, and of course JAY-Z. But the albums that spoke to my age and direct experiences as a teenager didn’t connect to me. That’s what made 4:44 so amazing. I didn’t experience losing out on a property for $25 million, or have an affair and almost lose my wife. I don’t have a gay mom either. What I did have was two personalities: the crazy measured. The one who always wants to do every insane thing imaginable, and the one who panics to get through work.

When I was walking to get to the 59th Street station to go to Coney Island on July 4th, I saw a skyscrape filled with nothing but the 4:44 album cover. I knew this album meant so much more to me even at that point, because everywhere I looked, I saw the album, and everywhere I looked, I saw the album speak towards circumstances of my life.

“Kill JAY-Z” spoke to my split personalities I feel at most times of my life, as I alluded to earlier. That idea of feeling like you should do something that you know will hurt you, and that guilty conscious will hurt and punish you for acting that way. Shawn is speaking to Jay in this song, and that’s how I try to reason to myself to get out of the selfish state of mind.

When “The Story of OJ” came on, and I listened to the chorus, I couldn’t believe how simply you could put the African American struggle. Yes, we have different skills, come from different experiences, and want different things, but we are all still the same, under one name.

“Smile” was me connecting to my appreciation of the life I do life. I don’t have the most peaceful and happy life, but I should be able to continue to appreciate my life for what it is. I should be thankful for the opportunities that I have and most of all, my mom is just a legend.

I understood “Caught Their Eyes” as my constant fight to watch out for those who get in the way of my success, attempting to threaten what I want to achieve. The most important thing was that you should watch out for those deceptions that could come in the way at some point too.

Well. “4:44” was… it’s just a masterpiece. No need to connect it to anything else. It’s one of the most important songs in hip-hop ever. Most people don’t know that yet, but they will in twenty years. A true classic. Not much else to say honestly.

“Family Feud” especially was almost laughable at some of the similarities with my family, and I appreciated his simplicity of saying: “I’ll f*ck up a good thing if you let me.” How much more blunt can you be? Really? The Beyoncé sample, feature, whatever it may be is phenomenal that balances out the snares and beautiful piano melody in the background sets this up as the most joyful song on the project

“Bam.” This is the “turn up” song of the album, mainly thanks to the fact that this song is the response to “Kill JAY-Z” from Hov’s perspective. He just attacks every single level of reasoning with just working to constantly go on the offensive, never settling for anything at all. That’s how I pump myself up. I want to and continue to get to the level where I can work harder than everyone else.

I couldn’t stop laughing at “Moonlight” because of its hook: “We stuck in la la land. Even when we win, we gon lose.” I appreciate his shredding of these rappers who sound the same and don’t change anything else. This song connects with me personally because I relate it more to how I see everyone around me doing things because others have done it, never thinking about what they actually want to accomplish.

“Marcy Me” is without a doubt my favorite song on this album. It’s not just the instrumental and the singing chorus, but it’s the idea of reflecting on how far you’ve come. I couldn’t believe just six years ago that I could be at the state I am at today. Also, “Hold the uzi vertical, let the thing smoke,” and the rest of the line about Lil Uzi Vert was appropriate, mainly to point out the stupid actions that these younger rappers are doing today.

I hope that my “Legacy” can play out something like Shawn’s. The intro from Blue is appropriate for this one especially, and I want to create a legacy that I can leave for the world one day. I want to truly change the world.

With the Grammys tomorrow, I’m rooting for 4:44 to come home with the victory. But to be completely honest, no Grammy or two or eight or none will take away from the impact this album has had on my life. When I ranked it as my number one album of 2017, I should have been more clear about the fact that everyone who loves music should listen to this album because it will become a Picasso. I’m just fortunate enough to realize this now, and maybe in thirty years, I’ll remind you, “I told you so.” Thank you Shawn Carter for making the most important album of my life and I wish you and the family all the more success in the future.

Thanks for reading this week! If you enjoyed reading, please leave a clap (on the side fo the page), and be sure to follow me so we can get more readers! Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter @noahbball1 for any updates to the blog. I’ll see you all next week at the same time.

Being Noah Tesfaye #12: We Need a Leader

So last week I was talking to my mentor teacher/friend, the only black English teacher at my school, about how African Americans could possibly really become equals and demand for true equality. After everything we talked about, the one thing he said was that we need a leader. And ultimately, he is COMPLETELY correct. Black people don’t have someone who can currently demonstrate their wants and rightful desires in this country. As much as I do want to believe that there has been a lot of progress made, there is no single YOUNG black leader in politics that can carry the legacy of the likes of John Lewis.

The first initial answer that any non-black person would say is Barack Obama. Now, as much as I believe that Obama was one of the most important people for African Americans, he hasn’t been as forceful and as direct about black issues as I would have hoped. When pressed by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Obama agreed that reparations are more than justified, but in its actual application, he didn’t know how feasible that goal was. As a strong supporter and passionate advocate for reparations, I would have hoped that our former president did take a stronger position on the subject. His speech to Morehouse College, the famous HBCU, left many, including myself, kind of surprised in his apparent lack of sympathy for those who have dealt with the worst hardships of the results of Jim Crow and slavery. In many ways, I like to think that I’m kind of like Barack in a sense that I have African heritage and grew up in a fairly diverse place. Nonetheless, we don’t have that heritage rooted in being brought on slave ships across the Atlantic. We both struggled to find our identities in a world where we didn’t know if we were ever fully accepted.

Barack is a strong example of someone that I have definitely looked up to as a black leader and helping bring more opportunities for people who are first generation like me. But he his goal wasn’t the betterment of black people; it was to be the president of the United States and a person beloved by all. We need someone who can truly lead and live a life to the betterment of all black people and continue to demand progress, never settling for any moment.

This is why I find the dispute between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Cornel West were absurd and utterly stupid. To be clear, I side completely with Ta-Nehisi, not just for my affinity for him, but it is because I don’t think he is attempting to be the spokesperson for black people. When Cornel West wrote the Guardian opinion article saying “Ta-Nehisi Coates is the neoliberal face of the black freedom struggle,” I couldn’t stop laughing. Really? And then I read through the article, and I just became sad and disappointed. How could someone go after someone’s writing without understanding the context and purpose of Coates’ writing. He merely writes from a perspective of honesty and specificity about the effects of slavery and Jim Crow that have led to the plights of black people today. Being narrow doesn’t mean that you don’t have other reasons for what you believe. Being narrow means you know know your lane and you can acknowledge that your perspective that you are writing about is not necessarily showing the full scope, but rather the scope of your field of expertise in detail.

These disputes between black intellectuals and people who I believe, regardless of whether they intended or not, have some sort of opportunity to use their platform to share their perspective. Both of these authors are able to help bring to light some of the issues that black people face and are able to articulate them in clear and effective ways. However, to have conflicts between these two in ideology speaks of the larger, unfortunate circumstances that I want to change. Unity is one opportunity where regardless of specific ideologies, we need to be clear in what we want to accomplish. And nothing could be more effective than having a true leader to truly advocate for black issues and take initiative for these issues on a national scale, seen on a global scale. We need another Martin Luther King Jr. We need another Malcom X, or maybe a little less extreme. We need someone who can not only bring the issues of black people to national spotlight, but garner the support necessary to cause actual legislative change. This comes from an increase in black people in politics. Even though we may never truly ever become equal, why not try and work as hard as we can today?

Thanks for reading! Please leave a clap and follow so we can get more readers! See you all next week.


Being Noah Tesfaye #11: “Get Out” and What It Reminded Me About Race and Politics

If you haven’t seen Get Out by now, then you probably should stop reading this and avoid any further spoilers. Furthermore, if you haven’t seen Get Out, I insist that you should go watch this one of a kind film immediately! Anyway, my mom hadn’t seen the movie, so we watched it last weekend. Then, a few weeks later, I stumbled upon this article. And it brought up the point that I often forget to emphasize to a lot of my friends. In America, we emphasize too often the prevalence of white nationalists and their racist rhetoric. And while I do think it is important that we emphasize that their rhetoric is horrible and dangerous and all that, I feel as though that isn’t the real threat to preventing black people from rising up in society. I mean, sure, if you live in the South, much of the racism you face is more outward and explicit. But the racism that I know minorities in Silicon Valley experience is “liberal racism.”

We all know what racism is: “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race” according to Merriam Webster. This idea of racial superiority is nothing novel, yet it continues to persist in society. Here in Silicon Valley and from my personal experience, people behave in a way that continues to perpetuate racial superiority, but the instant they get called out on this behavior, they immediately claim “I’m not racist.” This can range from stereotyping to direct use of slurs, but the result, regardless of intent, leads to facilitating a situation where “racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” This is where I think we as people might lean if we dig into the definition at surface level. I would tend to agree with this point of view, and in many ways I think that this can lead to a few problems.

The first and most obvious problem when you call someone out on these ideas of “liberal racism” is that they most often didn’t intentionally mean to say anything that would lead to this sort of circumstance. This is where the term “racially insensitive” comes up. This is a more relaxed term that usually is used as a means to differ from the specific intent that comes with being racist and being racially insensitive. Some argue that this term comes back to the idea that the label of racist is “harsh” and that we shouldn’t label anyone with such a strong term. I find this logic to be absolutely stupid and honestly a way for people to let their racist comment, regardless of whether it was intentional or not, slide. If you did something regardless of whether it was intentional or not, in any circumstance, the fact is that you did it. You wouldn’t tell a judge that you took something from a store shelf, walked out with it unintentionally, and claim you didn’t steal. You did.

The best example I would like to use from experience of liberal racism is the idea that certain minorities, regardless of their work ethic and determination, aren’t as well-fit to take advanced courses. I speak for my experience in middle school when, like I mentioned in a previous post, my math teacher thought I shouldn’t take the honors math track for reasons I didn’t understand at the time. Her judgment that I wasn’t ready for it was unfortunately based on the fact that African American and Latino students tend to, objectively, have lower scores and are less successful students. However, of course we all know that these minority students have significantly more setbacks to their lives, from the lower socioeconomic brackets, to bad public schools, and so on. But the fact that this teacher was adamant that I don’t take this advanced course showed me for the first time an experience that was not intentional, but was designed regardless to continue to perpetuate racial superiority. I know many conservatives may disagree with this point with “Oh, why do you always bring up race?” And to that I would like to say that had it not been for my race, that teacher would have seen my As and hard work, and would have been objectively been able to say I should definitely take that honors math course.

So what the hell does any of this have to do with Get Out? As I watched the film, I couldn’t believe the precision Jordan Peele was able to describe some of the subtle, yet race-based conversation that continues to arise with black people in this country. The main character, Chris, gets into discussions with his girlfriend’s parents, who are white, about what it’s like to be black, and later at a party, a group of people at a party at the Armitage house question Chris about his athleticism and the unique features of black people. Besides this all being extremely awkward and disturbing, it continues to portray more of the same stereotyping that exists with particularly black citizens in this country. They are amazed that he can speak so eloquently and it only continues to the point, and reaches a climax where he gets literally hypnotized by his girlfriend’s mother to get his eyes extracted for a customer. This family literally sells features of black people to the highest non-white bidders, and this famous artist just so happened to be blind and wanted to see again.

I can speak for other black people that there couldn’t quite be something we fear as much as being crippled and at the mercy of white racists who pick apart our best features and throw everything else away for scraps. This movie showed me, and lots of other black people, is that these types of irrational fears that seem like true terrors are in actually nowhere near the magnitude to the kinds of real fears we have everyday. I pray everyday that when I do get pulled over by a police officer that I stay as calm as possible and any movement I make could result in the end of my life. I live in constant frustration by the fact that I will get wrongly accused of something I didn’t do just because of my skin tone. These fears seem extremely irrational and for most of the time, I can exist free of these fears because where I live isn’t too bad. Nonetheless, I feel insulted every time I hear a racist joke about black people because they somehow believe my existence as an Ethiopian is different from any other black American. Sure, my last name is different, and I may have the ability to trace my roots of my family, but that’s it. I still get treated the same. No racist is going to be less harsh to me because I’m Ethiopian. No police officer is going to be less harsh because I’m African. No court of law will be less harsh because I’m not the typical black teen ethnicity-wise. Just because I am first generation, doesn’t make it mean I’m less of a black person. My family just happen to have moved from a sh*thole country voluntarily and only thirty years ago.

In many ways, this is why I think that sense of security and support for one another and its significant lack of it is why we aren’t able to ensure our true success. Maybe if we weren’t so caught up in getting upset at each other, with the Ta-Nehisi Coates vs Cornell West debates, or with the fact we aren’t demanding more from our legislation without bringing enough people to compete at that level. Get Out presents us with the opportunity to reflect on the status of black people and really check if the true enemy we are going after is the white supremacist in Alabama or the white liberal/conservative intellectuals who we are only starting to challenge now. I am glad that for once that the fears of liberal America were put on such a display in this movie, and Jordan Peele shared the unfortunate story about the fact that those who even appear to help us are also not willing to let us reach an equal summit of power.

So let us take this year as an opportunity to intelligently tackle the issues of black people. Let’s try to think and continue to look at the great parts of our community taking up the arms in legislation, changing communities. We could use more politicians like Jewell Jones, citizens who are willing to impact their communities and take the most methodical legal approach to eventually one day securing the true equality of black people. We may never be equals in this life, but what we can do is to continue to work as hard as possible to one day be on that level and at the very least put the next generation at a better place than we are at today. Dr. King would be proud of the steps we have taken the past few years, but in his words: “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Hope you enjoyed reading this week! Be sure to follow me on Twitter for some of my thoughts more immediately as well as some fun tweets as well! See you all next week at the same time.


Being Noah Tesfaye #10: Why I Fear Failure

So initially, I was going to write about watching Get Out and what it reminded me about liberal racism and racist vs racially insensitive, but I decided to save that for next week. What I wanted to write about, or rather just vent to anyone is my fear of failure and not succeeding. I have been trying to understand for so long the consequences that I could face by not succeeding to the lengths that I truly believe that I can achieve and as a result that always gets in the way of me being able to achieve the great things that I want to do.

This idea isn’t anything new for me or anyone else like me who constantly lives depressed. I would like to think that for the most part I have a handle on these issues and can be comfortable living mostly positive everyday. But every once in a while, it slips. Yesterday was one of those days when I couldn’t get it to click. I kept missing one, two, three, four questions when doing practice reading passages for the SAT. Now usually, I am pretty confident in my ability to remain calm and be proactive with my ability to look intensely at my mistakes and be able to grasp how I can be better at working on my weaknesses. But for some reason, yesterday it all collapsed. I bombed a section of the practice reading and I couldn’t remain calm throughout, couldn’t read anything on the page, and began to panic. It was just a practice test. It didn’t count for anything. And yet for some reason, it was as if in that single moment, every single worry I had of not succeeding all came crashing down.

I believed in that single moment that it would all be over. The college dreams, the great SAT score, the law school aspirations, everything hinged on this single practice test. And when it didn’t go the way I hoped it would, I raged irrationally and for reasons that shouldn’t have happened. I blamed my brother for playing Xbox so loud when I could’ve just put on my noise cancelling headphones. I blamed my dog who wasn’t even barking, yet in my mind was. And most of all, I blamed the environment that I was in that allowed me to somehow not do as well as I wanted to in this situation. There was no reason for me to get upset from an outsider’s perspective. I have plenty of time to make up for this one misstep, and yet, I couldn’t think about it this way. All I saw was these mistakes and the end of it all. The past success, the optimistic future, was gone.

What I came to realize, with the help of my mom most of all, is that I truly am my worst enemy and the single person who can destroy everything I have going. I have been too petrified about the idea that when I fail, it would end everything that I’ve worked so hard to achieve. And the worst advice I always get that I find at first ludicrous is “relax.” As a young black teenager, I don’t feel like I can ever relax because I think there is no chance for me to make a mistake. But the truth is, that this advice, is kind of true. I feel like I’m trapped at every point in my life and in everything I do, but I have yet to look at what I have. I need to get rid of my attitude about not doing enough and failing with gratitude for the circumstances I have to succeed. I could have been my cousin in the countryside in Ethiopia with no chance of leaving home. I have the whole damn world at my fingertips and it is only about my effort and drive to get to where I want to go that is in the way.

So I need to step back for 2018. Every single time I feel like a failure, a piece of sh*t, a loser, worthless, I need to bring back everything into perspective. By no means is this a concession to stop working hard. Best believe that I will be working harder than I’ve ever done this semester and the rest of this year through apps. But I want to get back and see the big picture. I want to see and remind myself of why I’m working so hard and keep that as the main objective. And while it may weigh on me a bit more, it will remind me that I am only at the beginning of something I know will be special and that will change the world. I may not know completely what that thing will be, but I know that I can work as hard as possible AND be grateful for this one in a million opportunity I have to pursue my dreams. That’s my goal for this year. Now, I’ll go back to tackling that reading section productively and I’ll see you all the same time next week. Thanks for reading.

Being Noah Tesfaye #9: 2017 — The Year of Self-Exploration and Self-Realization

I didn’t know what 2017 would really become on January 1st. This year was by far the most challenging and one of the most difficult years of my life. Sure, school this year was difficult taking a ton of honors/AP classes, but it wasn’t what was truly challenging for me in life. The hardest part about 2017 was that I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know who Noah Tesfaye, the Ethiopian/African American high school student from the Bay Area, was. I would talk incessantly about certain issues in politics following our presidential election, yet I did not have a factual and logic-based reasoning into why I believed in what I believed. I followed blindly the rhetoric that has surrounded my life and rarely ever sought to develop my own unique opinions on how the world works, and in many ways, failed to develop my own self-identity.

Starting 2017, I didn’t know where I would end up in December. So I just decided to become more educated. And I don’t just mean taking my education more seriously, but I mean to educate myself in topics that truly interest me rather than wasting time, pondering how depressing my current situation may have been. The first step I took towards that goal was trying to find some sort of summer program to fulfill my love for learning. That was the Columbia University Constitutional Law summer program that I wrote about a month ago here. I learned through those three weeks that I can work diligently for hours on end learning about subjects that I am passionate about. Learning for the first time in my life was absolute fun. All the work I was putting in felt as though I was progressing towards a better understanding of who I was. And sure, that was based on the class I was taking, but it was primarily because of the candid discussions I had with my peers and most importantly friends. They were able to challenge my way of thinking in hopes of not only sharing why their opinions matter, but did so in a way that helped me learn to form my own opinion. They helped me begin to find my identity and for that I will always be forever grateful.

Following my newfound interest in Constitutional Law and friends, I went to Ethiopia at first only for a vacation. However what I ended up finding on this journey was much more. I discovered the roots of my family. I didn’t realize quite what it truly meant to be Ethiopian until I visited as a true teenager who was ready to explore what the country had to offer. As it turned out, there isn’t really anything for younger people to do in Addis other than party, and realizing that was not for me, I embraced the culture and family I had. I didn’t realize to what extent my heritage, Ethiopia, had truly shaped my life until I saw my family interacting. I saw the profound respect for one another, the enforcement of education. I saw the parental restrictions and lack thereof, the omnipresent poverty and wealth that seemed to exist in such close proximity. What Ethiopia showed me most of all was that I had a place I could always go back to and never feel like I was ever an outsider. I was, for the most part, just like everyone else, and I could just stand, looking across the street, without any suspicious looks.

The day I visited my grandfather’s village, I met family I didn’t know existed. Aunts, uncles, second cousins, and everything in between. I didn’t know it until then, but what set them apart from me was that my grandfather walked a full day straight to go to school every week and walked back home on the weekends. He persevered against all odds to get his medical degree, proving to me in the most powerful way that you could truly accomplish anything against the circumstances you may face. And so, with newfound family and connections, I came back to the US with the sense of purpose. I knew that I wanted to learn as much as I could and take full advantage of every opportunity I have. There was no reason for me to not work as hard as I possibly could because there is no 24 hour walk, there is no barrier than my own mind that can stop me from pursuing whatever I truly want.

During the beginning months of the school year, I became fascinated once again with journalism. I saw how much I enjoyed being a part of my school paper. Shooting videos to report stories was fun, but I knew deep down that I enjoyed writing just as much. I re-discovered and later fell in love with the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates this past fall. There was something about his writing style that captivated me: brutal honesty and truth. For as much as I did read a lot of great news, there was no journalist I had read about up until that point who was able to truly convey the gravity of the issues he wrote about that connected with me on such an elemental level. Coates helped me focus my eye on what is truly going on in the world. I began to read between the lines, think about the positives and negatives of situations around the world, and it helped me understand what it means to be a black person in America.

I also would be remised if I didn’t credit Gary Vaynerchuk for helping sharpen my mindset. Sometimes in life, you really need someone to just yell at you and tell you to just get sh*t done. He preaches about the need to not have any excuses and you need to go out and tackle the goals you want to achieve. No one is stopping any of us in America from attempting to achieve our goals, and with his constant yelling and anger, I was able to sit down and set my goals towards one simple idea: write.

At first I didn’t know what I wanted to write about, or why I was writing in the first place. But if there is any advice I truly appreciate the most from Ta-Nehisi, my current English teacher, and Stacey Marie-Ishmael, it is that you can’t really critique any sort of writing you may have if there is none in the first place. There was no way for me to continue to help find who I am and becoming if I didn’t just start writing about anything. So I started this blog. I didn’t know what it would become, and I still don’t know what this exactly is. The one thing I did know was that I wanted to write once a week, publish on Saturdays, and talk about issues from the one subject I am attempting to master: Noah Tesfaye.

The past two months of writing on this blog has received a tremendous amount of support that I didn’t know existed. I am thankful for everyone that does read and I want to say thanks for sticking around to read every week. But I do want to say that this is the beginning. I am writing this blog in hopes of discovering more of who I am. The idea behind this blog is not to just grant you with a new perspective on issues that are relevant today, but for me to become a better person and citizen of the world. I created this to learn more about the world. My Affirmative Action and Case for Reparations articles guided me to a better understanding of the race I am a part of and what it means to be black in America, regardless if I have the full scope of the heritage or not. Writing about adults and parents was something I believed helped me share my frustration with our inability as teenagers to communicate effectively and respectfully with adults and therefore hindering our ability to build stronger relationships with the older people in our lives.

So for what it’s worth, this blog will continue to be published, once a week, for the foreseeable future. I know I am not the only person who experiences the same circumstances that I do, and I can only hope that they stumble on this blog and realize that they aren’t alone. I will continue to write here because I know that even though I may struggle and deal with hardships in my life, I can always come here and share my frustrations and anger, pouring my thoughts into something that people from all countries and backgrounds can learn about and have something to enjoy every Saturday afternoon. Thank you so much for reading and I will see you all next week for another installment of Being Noah Tesfaye.

Also, since I didn’t want to post this for next week, here are my top ten albums and songs from 2017. Feel free to tweet me @noahbball1 for some candid debate about these lists.


  1. JAY-Z — 4:44
  2. Tyler, The Creator — Flower Boy
  3. BROCKHAMPTON — Saturation III
  4. BROCKHAMPTON — Saturation
  5. Joey Bada$$ — ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$
  6. BROCKHAMPTON — Saturation II
  7. Kendrick Lamar — DAMN.
  8. Royce Da 5’9″ — The Bar Exam 4
  9. SZA — Ctrl
  10. Sampha — Process

Songs (had some ties(ok, a lot), Redbone didn’t come out in 2017, but if it did, it would be #1 on this list for sure):

  2. Tyler, The Creator — Boredom/See You Again
  4. JAY-Z — 4:44/Family Feud/Kill JAY-Z/The Story of O.J
  5. Joey Bada$$ — BABYLON (feat. Chronixx)
  7. Daniel Caesar — Best Part (feat. H.E.R.)
  8. Kendrick Lamar — ELEMENT./LUST.
  9. Rolling Stone P — Little Do They Know
  10. Vince Staples — Big Fish

Being Noah Tesfaye #8: A Student’s Case for Reparations

 I. Why write about this?

I don’t know where to start with this one. This has been the issue that I initially didn’t know how to speak on. Being a first generation African American with no connection to the black American culture, I didn’t know at first how to feel about this issue. That being said, I knew this much before I embarked on this journey. Throughout the history of the United States, there have been and still are systemic problems with this nation and its treatment of African Americans. From the prison industrial complex to land lords refusing to lease to black people, there is no shortage of issues that are placed upon African Americans purely based on their race. All of this came from the institution of slavery and the social construct that is race. If you asked anyone hypothetically about whether it would be fair for a group of people responsible for building a significant part of the most powerful nation in the world not receiving any sort of compensation for their contributions, any good person would call that flagrant. This hypothetical group is the African American people of this nation that was brought here against their own will between the mid 1600s to mid 1800s. This is my case for reparations for those people.

II. The consequences of the past still affect the present

As a journalist at school, we are taught to gather as many perspectives for any story, and especially with this serious of a topic, I decided to call one of my conservative friends about this issue. His explanation for why reparations shouldn’t exist in the form of direct payment is that first, it happened too long ago in the past. He also argued that, for the time period, it was acceptable to own slaves, and because so few people owned slaves anyway, it would not be worth it for the US government to spend money on this issue that so few people were responsible for. I challenged him with the reparations to Israel from Germany, and he refuted that it had never been acceptable to gas millions of Jews. And while I do agree that it has never been acceptable to massacre Jews or any race ever, there is a clear double standard going on with these two persecuted groups, a race-based double standard in my opinion. Slavery was the most violent, outrageous, and government-supported institution in American history that took place over two hundred years in this country. The consequences of perpetual racism that has taken place then and now are responsible for the plights of black people in this country every single day.

There is a reason why African Americans make up only 13% of the American population yet 38.6% of the federal prison population. There is a reason why only about 23% of ALL black people ages 25–29 have any sort of bachelors degree. There is a reason why for every $100 a white family holds in wealth, the average black family only holds $5.04. That is a 20 to 1 wealth ratio. Let that sink in. That is completely different from the perception the psychologists from Yale found when conducting this study. When they asked black and white Americans of varying incomes about this wealth gap, they estimated that black people had approximately $83 for every white family’s $100 in wealth, 16 plus times the amount they actually have.

This inequity is what our nation was built upon. When you bring over half a million people to America over the course of two hundred years with the intention of never paying them, and then just releasing them from slavery in 1865 in hopes they could just “figure things out” is ludicrous. Rather than slavery ending, it just transformed into sharecropping. This eventually led to Jim Crow laws later being established in the South during the late 1800s because society continued to perpetuate that black people were inherently worse than white people. When you can’t provide equal opportunity to go to college and gain an education, you won’t have black people ever see the light of Congress and representation in local government necessary to change public perception of race. This continuous cycle of subordination without the chance to correct this idea even in children at an elementary school level is what led to the persistent racist and white supremacist behavior that has become normalized for the better part of our nation’s history.

For those who’ve seen 13th, then you know that the 21st century slavery is the prison industrial complex. Once slavery was ended with the 13th amendment, state and local governments all across the South and even other parts of the country would arrest black people for “loitering,” and send them to jail for irrational and racist reasons, resulting in unfair sentencing. Privatized prisons only exacerbated the issue and harsher sentencing against black people has led to corporations profiting significantly off of prison labor that they can pay pennies on the dollar. All of this stems from slavery.

III. Government inaction

As much as I think our government has helped pushed the United States into a much more equal opportunity nation, there has not been enough of an effort towards even the research of the consequences slavery and racism have had on this country. Every year from 1989 to 2017, former Representative John Conyers (who I think you can judge for yourself after all his allegations found here) proposed the famous H.R.40 bill, or the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act. He wanted to create a commission to help study the effects of slavery and approve of possible solutions to these consequences. Every single year since 1989, it has never passed, and with his resignation, there is little hope this bill may ever be pass.

Not only has Congress feared the idea of granting reparations, but they have feared even the study or research of the subject altogether. Not only does this speak volumes for how much they are afraid of discussing race, but they are more afraid of uncovering how bad the nation has been towards black people in particular. The Senate did pass an apology for the institution of slavery in 2009, but one, this happened in 2009, nearly 144 years after the 13th amendment and with the first black president, and two, all it was was a written statement, with no courses of actions to take attached to it. As much as it was a step forward to acknowledge the problem, the next step should have been how to address the injustices caused by slavery. Unfortunately, that has never happened.

IV. It has been done before

Well, the first reason I came up with respect to why we should have reparations was quite simple: if the US and countries across the world have given monetary reparations to other marginalized groups, why can’t African Americans in the US get reparations too? In 1988, President Regan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which granted $20,000 to each survivor of the Japanese Internment during WW2. Now, I understand that direct monetary reparations for African Americans could end up going to millions of black people and cost billions more than what was sent to the Japanese, but the US has granted reparations before.

Another childish, yet justifiable reason I came up with was “Well, Germany did it. Why can’t we do something on a larger scale?” Following WW2, the German government has continued to pay for Holocaust survivors’ medical treatment and in 2013, pledged to pay over $900 MILLION to help establish a fund for Jewish Victims of Nazi Aggression. Whether you think it is possible to have the US pay this much is one thing, but the very fact that Germany is pledging this much to correct for their wrongdoings over the course of around 13 years shows us that we should pay back reparations of some form towards the descendants of the millions of slaves that were brought to the US over the course of over 200 years. Again, although the population receiving reparations today from Germany is minuscule compared to the black population today in America, monetary reparations have been granted before, and the German government is an example of a governing body who has taken responsibility for its past.

V. What can we do?

Even if we cannot accept the fact that payments to millions of people is possible, although I certainly think it can and should be done, there are methods besides just direct payment that can reduce the inequality between white people and black people in this country caused by slavery. The first step must be education. There must be no division between what the South and what the rest of the nation views the Civil War, or segregation as. How can we accept reparations when it was only 22 years ago that Alabama recognized the 13th Amendment? There has to be no misconception about the Civil War was the “War of Northern Aggression.” That was a war for slavery and to preserve the oppression of millions of black people in this country. Period. I do think that it is unfortunate that the rest of America has failed to help those in rural areas in changing how they view slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. Everyone in this nation should be granted through school a comprehensive understanding of the gravity of slavery and how brutal the institution was.

Once we can truly understand how horrible the enslavement and segregation of black people was, we can then be equipped with the necessary knowledge to address the subject of reparations. I want to make one thing extremely clear. Reparations aren’t a partisan issue. They are a correction for the past wrongdoings of black people by this nation. If you don’t support any form of reparations, even in building institutions to support the African American youth in this nation, then you do not believe that our government should be responsible for slavery and its ideas that continue to threaten the success of black people today. Considering how much this nation profited upon the backs of slaves and following Reconstruction, I don’t think there is any reason why we would not grant reparations of some sort towards African Americans.

Legally, there is a basis to grant reparations. If there is a specific way for the descendants of slavery to prove that they were brought here against their will and were profited off of their unpaid labor, then the debate towards granting those specific people reparations can be made. This would cause many people to at first evoke the 14th Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause as a reason why monetary reparations could never be legally possible. These reparations would be treated as if the state was responsible for the lives that were lost during those 200 years. The US government is responsible for the rapes, lynchings, and brutal murders of millions of African Americans during slavery and through post-Reconstruction/Jim Crow era America, just like they would be responsible for the pollution of a state-owned facility that caused someone to die of an illness. If you can prove that your descendants have been enslaved, you should be granted some sort of compensation for your family’s suffering, whether that means getting a better mortgage when buying your family’s first home and/or access to better educational opportunities, starting in elementary school.

Ultimately, I would be remised if I didn’t mention the fact that there are plenty of marginalized groups in American history. Native Americans got a country stole from right under them. Mexicans were kicked South because the US won the Mexican-American War, yet weren’t allowed to return to the US. I could go on and on with these groups, but I struggle to genuinely understand how the treatment specifically of African Americans and their enslavement and continued marginalization in the country they were responsible for helping become the most powerful nation in the world can go unnoticed. Social justice and reparations for slavery are two connected, yet very different topics, and in many ways, this is why I wholeheartedly disagree with Senator Bernie Sanders on his stance against reparations. Reparations aren’t just about bringing the socioeconomic statuses between white and black people closer as it is about the state being responsible for the torture of black bodies for the better part of this country’s history. This nation’s government has never claimed full responsibility for slavery and segregation, and their inability to correct for these injustices is why white supremacy and socioeconomic inequality will continue to be perpetuated in the United States. The one thing I do know for certain, through my research and self-reflection this past week, is that if this country cannot truly acknowledge how slavery, segregation, and racism is responsible for what America has become, we can never begin to correct the consequences these institutions have done to our country.

I would like thanks for taking the time to read this. This piece was inspired by The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates, so if you can, send it his way and hopefully he can read this! Please leave your thoughts in the comments either here or on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter @noahbball1 to engage in some insightful conversations. Please share this article with your friends and family and have some candid discussions this holiday. See you all next week.

Being Noah Tesfaye #7: Adults and Why We Shouldn’t Fear Them

Let me be the first one to say that I like adults in many ways more than people my age. I’m not denying I of course have friends that are my age that I truly care about, nor am I saying I don’t appreciate younger children either. But personally, I really feel like I’m at least 25 in my mind. That’s why I can relate to adults a whole lot more. And that’s why I don’t fear them. I actually am interested in learning from adults and I am never intimidated by anyone to speak up.

This was brought back to my attention a few weeks ago when I got back a test that I scored decent on, but most of my colleagues didn’t do super great either. We were all complaining about how our teacher was grading our tests all semester, and I finally got tired of the jabber. I just asked everyone, “Why don’t we just talk to the teacher about the way they grade?” No one had ever brought this up prior to this point in time. I didn’t have any problem bringing this up to my teacher. On the surface, he/she(for anonymity purposes) doesn’t appear to be the most generous person. I thought it was justifiable to ask our teacher as a student how he/she grades. So I went up to him/her, asked how they grade, and asked if the way he/she graded was intentionally curving those who score higher on the exam. He/she said they would go over it with our other teacher, and they emailed me a few hours later letting me know the grading policy would be changing to grant a fair and equal curve to all students.

It bothers me that students are so fearful of not just their teachers, but of their parents. And for many cases, there is a reason for that. Some students have the unfortunate circumstance of abusive parents, or controlling and manipulative parents, or even parents that just force them to study 24/7. But if you aren’t in that circumstance, I would assume that you have parents and adults in your life that you can speak your mind to, respectfully. That is how I’ve been raised. There is no reason to fear adults because you should be able to speak to them respectfully and in a way they can respect you.

This also goes for other teachers at school too. I often see people fear some teachers that I don’t really mind discussing random topics with because I know they are human. They aren’t, and I know this may be hard to believe, malicious and evil beings who assign miserable homework and mind-bending tests. They like watching Stranger Things and eating cronuts too. They also like to chat about sports and aren’t afraid to discuss the political climate in America. What disagreements and/or feuds you may have with your teachers, that is no real reason to not acknowledge them for who they are: normal people, just like you and me.

So what is the first step as students to being genuine to our elders? It’s simple, actually. For starters, we could start treating our teachers with genuine respect as someone who is above us, but know that they are people we can talk to. Our parents were once our, and if anything, no matter where they’ve come from, they could have some sort of understanding for the circumstances we deal with. Another step we could make is to try and get a better understanding with adults in our lives is to ask questions. Ask literally anything. The more we can ask and understand their experiences, the more they will become more “human” and more relatable to us.

And perhaps the one thing I would suggest for all of us to be able to appreciate and recognize adults for who they are is to just be more mature. We all need to grow up a bit and realize that our teachers like Star Trek, and even some of our parents used to love playing video games too. Sure the adults in our lives can be hard to appreciate through all the things they do that we may not like, but if we can truly appreciate adults as we do our friends, then our relationships with them can truly be of mutual respect and admiration.

Being Noah Tesfaye #6: Stress and Anxiety

I don’t think necessarily that stress and anxiety are bad things. In fact, those are the two key motivating factors in my life. In the many situations that I live through, whether it may be at school, at home, or volunteering, I cannot survive without there being some sort of pressure I put onto myself to get anything done. That’s why I accomplish what I set out to do. But on the other hand, it is the very reason why my life gets extremely miserable. Allow me to explain.

I would love to start with the classic example when, as many of my hardworking friends know, adults ask you “Why are you working so hard?” or “Why are you so stressed?” I would like to first ask the question of “Do you know what I need to get into a great university?” Most of my friends, and those that have origins outside the US in particular, can agree with me when I tell you why aren’t you working as hard as you possibly can? We live in the greatest country in the world, where for the most part, as long as you work truly as hard as you can, you can accomplish anything you set your mind out to accomplish. The stress for most of us doesn’t necessarily come from the fact that we are afraid of what our parents or peers think, although I do believe that is a factor in our ever-mounting stress. For many of us, or at least for me personally, the stress comes from the fact that we don’t take the opportunity we have because we can’t really make mistakes. I know as a black student that any mistake that some students may be able to overcome I may never be able to. One wrong interaction with a police officer, teacher, principal, or any adult could lead to my reputation to being scarred forever. I am so stressed because I always watch my back.

On the mention of an opportunity, I know many students who have strict parents deal with the crushing mention from their family that they aren’t doing enough. They always have to work harder and always get more than a 4.0. While I think all of that is rooted in very justifiable reasons, I do think that doesn’t necessarily help in the stress that students deal with. On top of the mounting homework students deal with at school, their peers discussing how they “only” got an A instead of an A+ on a test, they have to go back home to a parent or parents that are getting after them for their test scores.

I fall on almost the complete other side of that spectrum. I don’t care, politely, about how other students or friends do on tests, papers, or frankly anything. My parents do not get after me on anything I do in school. Everything I do is motivated by what I want to do. And in many ways, that’s how students can pursue careers that they want, not necessarily what their family or teachers or friends want them to pursue. But in many ways, the stress and anxiety builds even more when you are put in a position when you are, for lack of a better term, doing it on your own. Your friends can be with you to support you and your family may want to give you a break, but the way students feel when their actions are solely motivated by themselves places an immense amount of stress on students.

The easy solution many adults claim then is that you don’t have to work that hard and you should lower your expectations. You can go to an ok school and then get an ok job, and be happy. But I know that many students like me have such strong aspirations such that we will never sacrifice the opportunity we have in America. Most of us have school as the only pathway to the career of our dreams. The second thing that some adults will say is that you should relax. And while that in some cases that may be true, school for most of us is a 24–7 curriculum. We have the extracurriculars, the newspapers, the debate teams, and everything else in between to get done because we know that’s what we need to build to where we want to be in ten years. There is almost no time in our days to relax. And when we do take a break for our sanity, we beat ourselves up because we could be working on more SAT problems or reading the next chapter in the bio textbook to get ahead.

To cope with the ever-mounting stress that students experience, my school decided to impose a homework policy. This was designed to cap homework for at 45 minutes for honors and regular classes, and an hour for APs. For me, that would amount to about six hours of homework a night. The unfortunate part of this is that most of these courses require much more homework to do well and this policy doesn’t take into account long-term projects and test review. This results in students staying up until at least 11–12 every single night, and especially for those with sports and other long activities after school, going to bed at 2 AM routinely. And in a few hours, you have an essay due or a major test.

So school isn’t really going to change. I don’t frankly expect it to ever change with the expectations and stress isn’t going away there either. Now is usually when I pose a solution to an issue that I’ve highlighted earlier in the post, but at this point, I have no clear idea on what we could do. The first thing I would suggest is turn our phones off, and while I think that could work, I don’t know any student who doesn’t communicate with their classmates at least sometimes with their phone to get work done. So maybe the second solution I would propose is to create a schedule for the time you have to do work for classes. I’ve tried this, and it works only sometimes. With all the changing factors in our lives, a single extra assignment throws the schedule off completely, and then I can’t concentrate because I beat myself up for not staying on the schedule.

What can we do then? Honestly, like I already said, I don’t know. But I know something we can’t do. We can’t sit on our failures. A bad test, a mediocre essay grade, a late assignment is bad only in the short-term. The true definition of how great of students we are is not merely just how we do initially, but how we can rebound from the moments that force us to re-evaluate our methods. And perhaps the one thing I can’t do is to give up. I’ve spent hours, days, and even weeks dwelling on how I could have done this, how I could have taken a different class, or how I didn’t work as hard as I could have. But that hurts you know. Why think about your failure in the short term and how it affects you in the long-term when you can think about how you can make this moment and this day the best you can?

I empathize with my classmates who are always frustrated with what grade they got on a project, and I feel the same way. But there is only one true thing we can control: our effort. We can’t change how a teacher grades most of the time, or how hard the SAT will be, but we can change how we prepare, how hard we work to be as prepared as possible for anything. So I’m asking you to just work as hard as YOU can. Don’t focus on anything else. Think about how you can work as hard as you can just today. Tomorrow, think about how you can make that day the best possible because regret is the worst feeling in the world. If we work as hard as we can, we won’t ever feel regret because at least we know we did as much as we could at that moment.

Finals are next week and I’m evaluating how hard I’ve work this semester. Do I feel regret for some situations? Sure I do. But I don’t get upset at the grade I got on an assignment ever. I get upset at the fact that I didn’t work as hard as I could have to get a grade I was proud of. I don’t think we as students should dwell on everything externally because what’s the damn point? That is a waste of your energy and mine and it’s unproductive. So to my friends, as we embark on finals net week, I ask of you to not evaluate on what grades you could have made better, but rather evaluate how you didn’t work as hard as you could have, and prepare to work even harder next semester. I would say good luck, but those aren’t the right words. Work hard and be as prepared as you can. You have control over you and there’s no real luck involved there. Just work as hard as you can. That’s something to be proud of. Be thankful that we’re lucky to get this opportunity. Let’s win this week and I’m wishing you all happy studying, even though I should get back to that right now… Thanks for reading and catch you all next week.

Being Noah Tesfaye #5: Life as an Black Student in Silicon Valley

There aren’t too many of us around here, if I’m going to be honest. We don’t get the opportunity to connect per say, and there is only one other Ethiopian family at my school. I don’t really like to think myself as much of an anomaly as much as someone unique and with a special heritage. But it’s a struggle being Ethiopian. I am not going to deny the frustration of not being able to connect with people like you every single day.

The first thing that I want to make clear is that it frustrates me to be African because people feel comfortable saying negative things about black Americans. For example, many students will make the stupid jokes about how athletic black people are, and not only are being racially insensitive, but often do it to provoke a laugh out of me. However, those moments destroy me because people behave as though I am not black. “Oh, you’re not black. You’re Ethiopian.” While I like to think of myself of as Ethiopian, I am African American. All your statements about black people, no matter how related I may be to those comments, affect those of us of African descent too.

I don’t often spend too much time thinking about these thoughts, mainly because I struggle to decide how I should approach people who differentiate me. The same way a black person would be so offended by being called stupid and uneducated is the same way I feel if someone assumes my people are starving and my family lives in a hut back home, which some do. It also frustrates me that everything I do seems to be even more impressive because I am black. People are more shocked at the course load I put onto myself. They are shocked I did a summer program at Columbia not just because it may be hard to go to, but because of the preconceptions they have of black people, whether they mean it or not.

I often suffer from the complete opposite experience that many of my good Asian friends deal with. Where they are assumed that they are tremendous students and great at math, I fall under the stereotype of not being the smartest student and less sophisticated. Sure, at times, I wish I could not be as preconceived as smart, but thanks to the environment I go to school, I can be accepted for the skills I have and they judge me based on my efforts, not my skin color. In many ways, that’s why I appreciate being a black student in Silicon Valley. Most people are very open and friendly to all races and it allows for there to be a synergy that doesn’t exist in many places of the country.

But where there exists acceptance, there exists prejudice. Especially here in Silicon Valley, there appears to be such a hidden prejudice that does not appear to be noticeable for many people. I hate it every time I go to the downtown that I have to get so many looks everywhere I walk. I hate it when people stare at me when I work in a coffee shop. No matter where I go in this area, these looks don’t go away. In many ways, I want to tell everyone I see that I am no different from them. I’ve lived in the Bay Area my whole life. I’ve seen the things you’ve seen. I’ve worked as hard in school as anyone else. But no matter what I could say, my fear is that the prejudice will only continue to grow.

Sometimes I think about what it would be white. I don’t think any non-white person hasn’t thought about the feeling of living without prejudice and without fear of not being accepted for who I am. But I stop myself every single time. I could dwell on how my life could be better. I dwell every single day. I think about how much I could feel less of a burden being myself every single day. But being Ethiopian, being African American is who I am. There are things that are not great about being black and those are just some of the unfortunate cases that we all have to deal with.

But being black is the greatest thing in the world. I would never change my skin color or my race for anything. Everyday, I get the opportunity to learn more about the culture that I am a part of and have acclimated towards. I just read Between the World and Me (I know I’m super late to the party), and I was able to read about someone who feels the same way I do on an even greater scale than I could have ever imagined. I have learned about the true consequences of slavery, the Italian invasion into Ethiopia, and the prison industrial complex. All of these moments have had some effect on me, whether I know it or not, and it is my job to learn how I can become the black person I can be. No peer, teacher, nor parent can ever deter me from this journey of discovery.

For the majority of my life, I always spent time about how other people viewed me. How people thought of my academic progress, my volunteer work, my choice of music, and most importantly, my heritage. But I came to the realization that I honestly don’t care. I don’t care what anyone thinks about me because I am confident in my ability to exist as me. If you appreciate me for who I am, then thank you. If you don’t like me for whatever reason, then thank you. Your thoughts about me frankly don’t matter. I began to accept advice, but I never make decisions anymore unless I genuinely believe it is the best for my success and my happiness.

Being black in Silicon Valley is a relatively unique experience, but I am nowhere near the only person who feels the way I do. To my peers who are judged for the way you look, the way you play your music, the way you carry yourself, you should not care. Let people judge you because you have the power to change your life. Their prejudice will only hurt them. Let our self-expression and pride be the opportunity to succeed and work as hard as we can to prove to ourselves we can exist here. We are carving our place in this area, and we are not going away.

Being Noah Tesfaye #4: How New York City and Columbia University Changed My Life

I am currently beginning to write this installment of the blog on the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving. I have had quite a year to remember, and a host of things to be thankful for. I had the utmost privilege of going back home to Ethiopia to visit family and just last week, I just spoke at the NCSS, National Convention for Social Studies, with my fellow editors of our school’s media literacy class. There is no opportunity, however, that I am more thankful for than receiving the chance to go to Columbia University for three weeks and study Constitutional Law.

Let me share the story from the beginning. In January of 2017, I was trying to find something I could do over the summer, and I stumbled across this program called Columbia’s Summer Program for High School Students. I thought it was super interesting and I thought I might as well apply for it. I wrote my application through Chemistry class with the support of my teacher. I was excited to get the opportunity to go, and then I saw the cost. That brought my jaw straight to the ground and sprung tears into my eyes. I so very much wanted to go, and realized that my family could not afford to pay the nearly $11,000 for being a boarding student, all for a summer program. Nearly no parents can afford that, and so when I saw the option for a scholarship, I jumped to it and prayed that I could get some money off so my parents could pay for the tuition. I get my acceptance email a few weeks later, which was great to hear, but no word of my scholarship, the one true acceptance letter. I begin to panic and fear that they didn’t accept my financial aid request. So I waited, and waited, and then one late spring afternoon, I saw the email that changed my life. Before I even got to New York, a city I have always loved and dreamed about living in, I knew that Columbia gave me the opportunity to pursue a passion that I didn’t I would have, but I made it my duty to take advantage of that opportunity.

Fast forward to June of last summer, and I’m on my first flight alone to JFK. I couldn’t contain my excitement the days leading up to check-in the Sunday before class. I jumped into my dorm, so thrilled to be at this position and opportunity, determined to tackle class the next day. At this point, I had little to no understanding concretely of what Constitutional Law was, but I knew I wanted to argue in the Supreme Court one day. That first day, I saw so many bright, excited classmates who, in all honesty, intimidated me. I was that one black kid, in my mind, here with the opportunity of a lifetime, amongst some of the smartest young minds I have ever known. But the second class began, I noticed something so profound that I had never noticed ever in my life. I felt my race disappear. I only was myself. Noah Tesfaye, not black, but a student determined to thrive in this situation. In that one moment, I realized that this was the beginning of something special, and boy did I underestimate what would happen.

Never in my life had I received the autonomy that I was granted those three weeks. Over the first few days, I began to connect with people on such an intimate level at a rate unprecedented in my lifetime. They didn’t see me for all the baggage that I carried with me. They were empathetic, yet they didn’t care about anything surface level. The types of conversations about the law, reading through our book of cases in Riverside Park, were moments I will never forget because never in my life had I seen so many people just connect with academia and law in a way that evoked such emotion. We argued about gun control, affirmative action, and everything else in between. Yet, I realized that I found friends who were human too. We could be discussing our idol Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Notorious RBG, and instantly flip to our obsession with Kanye West. There would be discussions about Roe V. Wade that would somehow evolve into our agreed opinion that cold brew is life (something I still cannot get out of my life might I add).

The three weeks I spent in New York gave me the break I needed. Living in Silicon Valley, although I do enjoy my home, the stress I feel being black in my town disappeared. Completely. I have visited almost every major city in the US, and no place has, and never will, give me the sense of true safety like New York. The fact that I could walk down the street to go get coffee and not receiving any judgmental looks felt like I could run free for the first time in my life.

Another conclusion I made through my experience in New York was that I saw the extent to which real friends can support you. I struggled for years trying to understand why my social anxiety brought me to friends who I did appreciate, yet did not appear to want me to succeed as much as I did. What my friends, or RBGang (for obvious reasons), made me realize was that we could all succeed. Together. There was never a friend left behind. There was never a moment where any of us were left out. We all picked places to eat, museums to visit, and random things to do. Sure, I’m sorry I had to drag them to Magnolia for bread pudding every few days, but other than that, we had a true give and take relationship that I never knew was possible.

But more than anything else, Columbia made me realize that there could be a place where I belonged in every sense of the word. We all shared one common interest and were all determined to work to achieve our goals. Up until that point in my life, I had never known that there was a place where people could merely accept me for who I am. Again, for a person who isn’t a black person isolated, or any minority for that matter, it is hard to understand what that is truly like. I could be me, in my purist form, unencumbered by any obstacles. When you’re the only student, working day to to day, living in isolation from anyone like you, it’s hard to believe that there could be a place for you somewhere in the world. But if only for just three weeks, I was able to live that dream that I never knew was possible. It was the happiest three weeks of my life because I could not believe that so many people my age were able to understand me for who I am.

So I want to say thank you. Thank you Columbia University for giving me the chance to come to your program, granting me a scholarship to come to New York and begin the study of the subject I plan on studying for the rest of my life. I hope that more students like me can get that same opportunity I did, and I wish there was more awareness for students less fortunate than I am to one day attend this gram in the future. Thank you to Camila Vergara, the best professor I could have asked for, both as a teacher, and as someone I can talk to when I have any questions to this day. And most of all, I want to say thank you to my friends, RBGang. You are the greatest group of people I have ever known. Your insights, personalities and energy gave me the motivation to continue to pursue my dreams because I know what I am working towards. The way you guys made me feel honestly gave me the courage to believe that it is ok to be just me, and no one should make me change who I am. I will always keep in touch with all of you, and even though we don’t all live in the same places, we share a connection that I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life.

I was going to end the post here, but unfortunately, I just read that Columbia won’t be accepting any more individual financial aid applications for their summer program next year. I am really sad that this option isn’t available for students who wish to come to this program in the future, but here is the info if you are interested in this summer program. If you are reading this Columbia University, I would really appreciate you continuing to grant students the same opportunity I received to go to your program and continue to help change the lives of students who cannot afford the full price of your program. I hope I can serve as an example of how much your scholarship helps students across the nation and the globe.