By Solomon McKenzie 21’
The phrase “Lift as you climb” originates from civil rights author and advocate for women’s suffrage, Mary Church Terrell. She was one of the first African Americans to receive a college degree and throughout her career as a teacher and author she also fought for social just within her community and eventually went on to create the national association of colored women and the national association of University women all while dedicating time to her personal goals of being a published author.
Growing up I held the belief that you had to help yourself before being able to help others in your community. I’d always focus on inspirational stories of successful individuals putting in years of hard work and dedication into their early careers so that they could have the resources needed to revitalize communities towards the tail end of their professions.
Over the course of the first two semesters of my graduate program, we’ve focused on a few core themes, one of the primaries being community involvement and intervention. Throughout my first year in Charleston, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a slew of guest speakers that are actively achieving goals in their professional life that they then use to aid causes that are personal to themselves.
Some of the most memorable speakers have been those that used their education and experience to fight for their community. I was particularly inspired by a speaker from the Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities who returned to school to pursue his master’s degree in planning and public policy, a field that directly relates to his professional goals of advocating for local communities to improve via focusing on affordable housing, education quality and economic development. While there’s no doubt that receiving your education and working full time at a nonprofit is a substantial example of lifting your community as you climb, there are a plethora of smaller examples of people giving back while still working hard on their own goals. Some examples for undergrad students include becoming a peer mentor through CEPE, serving as a SPECTRA leader, or even volunteering at a youth organization
Whether it be via volunteering your time, resources, or organizing local groups in your area, there are always ways to lift your community up with you as you climb the ranks in your academic and professional life.
Solomon McKenzie is a 2nd year Community planning and design masters candidate at the College of Charleston. He’s currently finishing his architectural thesis project on an innovative mixed use low income housing complex.