When I was in the 3rd grade, my parents asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.
It didn’t take me long to answer, “A superhero.” I had it all planned out; my costume, my powers; you couldn’t tell me anything! As I matured, I realized that being a superhero could be many things, and for me, it’s a lawyer. The lawyer’s suit was their costume; their tactical and intentional use of words was their superpower. This was the most tangible form of a superhero I could see envision myself as, and I wanted all parts of it!
My name is Ben Baker, and this is my Crystal Stair.
When I inform someone that I’m Sylacauga, Alabama, the first thing that I’m typically asked is how to spell and pronounce Sylacauga [sil-uh-kaw-guh]. Then when they hear Alabama, they say Roll Tide and I quickly interject with “War Eagle!” letting them know that I’m an alumnus of Auburn University.
Statistically, I shouldn’t be living in Washington, D.C. Statistics say that I should be incarcerated or even worse, dead. Nevertheless, God had a better plan for me. It was his plan that allowed me to accomplish feats like earning the rank of Eagle Scout as a member of the Boy Scouts of America and becoming a brother of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. What I learned is that societal plans or even my plans are no match for God’s.
When I look in the mirror, I see an underdog who had to overcome multiple obstacles to still achieve some levels of success. I was a young black boy growing up in a still deeply and insidiously divided state both racially and politically, which, in Alabama, were synonymous. The only successful black male role models that were advertised to young black boys were athletes. My black male role models weren’t just athletes, but hard-working blue-collar men. It was my father who taught me that success is not measured in titles or positions, but rather the work you do for others. It was the men in my church who showed me that faith in myself and trust in God will always guide me in the right direction. It was the men in the community who taught me that you can mess your whole life up with one decision, so always remember to think twice.
So I’m sure you can imagine in 2016, the excitement when I told them that I would be interning at…The White House for President Obama.
Now, as exciting as the White House was as a member of the last cohort of interns in the Obama Administration, being a country boy moving to a big city like Washington D.C. was a HUGE leap. I initially had no one to rely on, no family, and the inherent communication skills that you get from growing up in a city – I lacked. With the help of my parents, the McLendon family, and others, I didn’t have to want for anything there and could focus on learning from the astute White House staffers.
Though I was an intern in the field of politics, I still had dreams of becoming a lawyer, and I wanted to see that dream to fruition, but when I looked around me, my brothers with law degrees were few and far between. What was worse, I’d psyched myself out by looking at LSAT scores of black men—and it didn’t do much to quell my anxiety. I knew that if this small-town boy was going to make any type of difference in the arena of law, the LSAT would have to be the least of my worries. This goal of conquering the LSAT was the first step to making it happen.
After not doing well on the first try of the LSAT, I convinced myself that maybe that was God telling me law school wasn’t the right path for me. Perhaps, a graduate program would be a better plan. I even got accepted into graduate school, but as the time approached for me to commit to the decision, something in me wouldn’t let me. I knew that graduate school was not where I was meant to be; law school was.
So I made a commitment not to go out, but to grind and study for the test. I would watch motivational and inspirational videos. One that I took a liking to was a video of Kobe Bryant describing the “Mamba Mentality.” I, in my own way, had to unlock the “Mamba Mentality” inside me to achieve my goal. After months of relentless grinding, I took the exam and achieved a score of 6 points better than my previous score. Test takers who retake the LSAT average a 2.8 point increase, I had an increase of 6 points. I owe all of the praise to God and my support system.
I’m going to law school next year. I am going to become the superhero that I once dreamt about. Never count out the underdog.
STATE OF BLACK MEN
Throughout history, we have always been the underdogs or seen as unworthy. But you can look through those same stories to see Black men who have defied the odds. They have achieved greatness in their perspective fields. This generation of Black men has the privilege to gain wisdom from past leaders and current greats in a variety of industries. No longer are we tied to one archetype. We are at the intersection point where it is time for a new generation of Black men to carry the torch. I’m excited to be a part of this generation. Our time is here and we are ready.