I recently joined Antonio Aponte, founder of the Latino College Expo and good friend of mine, on ABC channel 7’s Tiempo with Joe Torres. The topic of discussion was the Latino College Expo, which takes place on Saturday, March 14th. The Latino College Expo turns 25 years old in 2015 and I was once a beneficiary of a scholarship offered by the expo that helped me pay for my books during my first year at Colgate University. Reflecting on receiving that award as a senior in high school, and answering Joe’s questions on air, took me on a trip down memory lane.
As a first-generation high school graduate in my family, education has a somewhat unique importance to me. I grew up in a single parent household where my mom would teach me math in the kitchen while she cooked. She would use fruit, Monopoly dice, toothpicks, and anything at her disposal to help illustrate her points for me while helping me with my homework. My mom was still a teenager when I was born and she made many sacrifices to make sure that I was healthy and it was always important to her that I worked hard in school. So, I did.
My mentors at The Boys’ Club of New York (BCNY) emphasized to me that “education is the great equalizer.” I interpreted that to mean that if I earned my education—working as hard in the classroom as I did on the basketball court—then I would be able to achieve some form of upward mobility and help my family build a strong legacy of grit and success. I would raise the standard and completing college would not be an achievement per se, but rather an expectation.
With the help of BCNY and the Latino College Expo, I was afforded some major educational opportunities. Having earned a full scholarship to an independent prep school in New England, I transferred out of my NYC public high school and began a new journey. That journey led to me earning an academic scholarship to a top liberal arts college.
Before I decided to become a full-time photographer, I returned to work at BCNY where I have helped other inner city boys place high value on their education and earn scholarships to some of the finest academic institutions across the country. The key, I found, was giving these young men the hope and confidence that they could take control of their circumstances by putting forth the effort in the classroom. The work I have done at BCNY holds a very special place in my heart. Giving back to my community has always been a priority for me because I benefitted immensely from my peers at BCNY who were on a similar path, mentors, and the alumni who came before me.
Part of the reason I enjoy photographing high school athletes is because of my time spent working with young people at BCNY. I feel a certain connection to these athletes even though they come from across the country and around the world and I do not really know them all that well. I do, however, root for all of them to be successful and achieve greatness both on and off the court.
To watch the episode of Tiempo highlighting the Latino College Expo and its 25th anniversary, click here. To learn more about the Latino College Expo—and if you’re interested in attending the event on Saturday, March 14th at the NYU Kimmel Center—click here to visit their website and register.