By Keona Bonamy
Delaware County Community College’s Marple campus held an event titled “Movin’ on up: Living the African American Dream” on Oct. 26, from 11 a.m. to noon in the STEM building.
The event, which featured EPA program analyst Ryan Maxwell, was sponsored by the Black and Latino Male Empowerment Initiative.
A dozen people attended, including faculty and staff, to hear Maxwell speak on her journey, successes, and difficulties as an African American woman, from her college years to her position as a program analyst for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
During the event, Maxwell contrasted the “American dream” and the “African American dream.”
“The typical American dream is a house, a car, two kids, dog, and a white picket fence,” she said. “[However], many of us do not live in neighborhoods where we can have white picket fences.”
Maxwell received her Bachelor of Science from Pennsylvania State University and her Master of Public Policy from the University of Maryland.
As a wife, mother, landlord and program analyst for the U.S. EPA for over nine years, Maxwell had many life lessons and experiences to share.
One significant experience was being the only African American woman on the board of directors of the Harrisburg International Airport.
“People don’t realize or understand how much diversity really just adds to the conversation,” she said.
Although this job was completely voluntary, Maxwell believed this was an avenue for change in her community.
She decided to take this opportunity to be a “voice for [her] people, at the table,” adding that money cannot always be the motive for doing things.
This mindset was present when Maxwell served as councilwoman for her small hometown of Steelton, Pa.
When Steelton’s mayor stepped down, Maxwell reviewed all the application letters wherein people described what they would do for the community if given the opportunity to serve as a council member.
Maxwell said she then realized none of the letters included why they were not doing anything for the community presently.
With that in mind, Maxwell agreed to serve as councilwoman for seven months. She described the experience as a “short, but a worthwhile experience” because it allowed her to get to know her neighbors and serve her community in a capacity she never imagined.
Maxwell explained what the African American dream means to her.
“I wanted to be college educated,” she said. “At one point that means having a PHD…something about ‘Dr. Ryan’ sounded good. That wasn’t in the cards for me, mainly because of student loans.”
Maxwell said she feels that the students at the college are already on the right path.
“College can be one of the biggest financial decision that you will ever make,” Maxwell said, elaborating on the financial benefits of community college.
Maxwell began her lecture by posing the question “What is the African American dream?” She followed up by asking each student to share their 10-year goals.
A student member of the Black and Latino Male Empowerment Initiative, who preferred to be known only as “Freddy,” shared his goals.
“Ten years, God willing, I start a motivational speaking company,” Freddy said. “My goal is to grow my business to the point where I can create generational opportunities for my family.”
Maxwell said that she understood and respected what Freddy said about creating a legacy. She described the first step to a legacy, life insurance and a will. Maxwell said in the African American community life insurance and wills are overlooked.
“When I look back at my time at Penn State and my Caucasian classmates, then I look to where I am at today, the difference between me and my friends is a will and life insurance,” she added.
Next, Maxwell discussed her voluntary position at Harrisburg International Airport, which led to another voluntary position as councilwoman for her hometown of Steelton.
According to Maxwell, her councilwoman position allowed her to have a “seat at the table” and offer an African American presence at meetings attended by majority white committees.
During the candid lecture, Maxwell emphasized that she does not want students’ goals to be something they turn away from.
“You never know which opportunity is going to build on something else,” Maxwell added.
Later, Maxwell explained that 10 years ago, she was unsure of what she wanted to do with her life, and that taking opportunities and stepping outside of her comfort zone helped her achieve her goals.
Maxwell’s said that her African American dream was to be married to a black man that would love her, care for her and understand her struggles and experiences. She also wanted a six figure income and a college education.
Afterwards, Maxwell discussed her experience as a student at a predominantly white institution.
At the time, Penn State had an African American population that was less than three percent. She visited her alma mater recently for a black alumni reunion and learned that the population has grown to about six percent.
Maxwell concluded her presentation by offering advice to the students. She encouraged them to not be embarrassed for who they are.
“As young black people, you will face so many issues,” Maxwell said. “It is very important to live your life above the fold. To live in a way where you make people proud to say they know you.”
Contact Keona Bonamy at firstname.lastname@example.org