Success is measured by the way we dress. This is my life perspective and it has been influenced by my Zambian cultural upbringing which, in many parts of Zambia, values fashion as a measure of success.
It was the lack of opportunity to pursue education that influenced my parents to appreciate fashion. This encouraged me to learn more about my cultural heritage. Since migrating to the United States in 2001, it became very apparent to me that fashion, to Zambians, is indicative of economic prosperity. In turn, fashion is a gateway to social acceptance. Even with qualities such as compassion, humility, and respect, I realized that in Zambia, an individual has to have self-confidence to whether verbal directness that verges on criticism common in Zambian culture. Instead, to be part of an accepted society, people generally present themselves professionally in order to avoid being categorized into the culture’s distinct class system.
As my visit came to an end, I realized that their fashionable appearance masked the fact that they were part of the lower social class system in Zambia. This made me feel guilty, shameful and responsible for the mere fact that I had not known about my family’s situation. It was at this defining moment, that I realized why my parents were always worried about how we presented ourselves to society. Therefore, they taught me and my siblings to be fashion conscious since they did not have the opportunity to reap the benefits of education.
As I sat on my seat during the plane ride back to the U.S., I asked myself, “What truly is success?” During elementary school, I believed that success was my large green Hip-to-be-Fit T-shirt that I occasionally would win from P.E. Could this be a by-product of my Zambian cultural upbringing? Maybe. In middle school, success was the hand-me-down black North Face Jacket that once belonged to my brother. Everybody had one, and I made sure that I got myself one as well- even with a quarter size hole on the lower back. Because at the time, the North Face Jacket was more than just a brand, it symbolized that I fit into a group, and on a larger scale, into society as a whole. Again, could this be a result of my upbringing? Perhaps…
As I continue to reflect on what type of person I want to be, my definition of success, in some ways, are made tangible by the fashions of Hennes & Mauritz (H&M). H&M is best known for its select vintage clothes for men, women, teenagers and children. H&M is an environment that provides me with the ability to express who I am: classic with a new twist of compassion, humility, respect and great potential. I realize that my affinity for H&M and fashion may be a result of societal pressures. However, I also recognize that it has been a large part of my own upbringing under my parents’ concept of “success.” This brings us back to how many Zambians define success based on outward appearance and I’ve chosen to embrace this.
Therefore, the way I approach fashion is the same way that I approach my education. The patience I have in buttoning up my vintage cardigan sweater represents the meticulous manner in which I do my homework. My eager approach when clipping on my blue bow tie to my dress shirts represents the passion I have for learning. Whereas the swift calmness I have for wrapping my scarf around my neck represents the respect I have towards my teachers. Education has always been a priority of mine because my parents did not have the opportunity to attain it. Thus, I am more than confident that I will succeed in climbing my golden ladder to success by pursuing a career in architecture.
Given the multicultural makeup of the United States, fewer than 2 percent of licensed architects in the United States are African-American, according to the National Association of Minority Architects. The low percentage of black architects I believe reflects the need for improvement in low income housings that are predominantly populated by African Americans. By improving the overall appearance of low income housing, apartments, and communities with post-modern designs at an affordable price, as an architect I will be able to provide a safe learning environment for minority students to engage in socially, physically, as well as academically.
As I pursue my passion for architecture, I hope to see the “2%” statistic of licensed architects in the United States grow. I know this statistic can grow if African American students are more exposed to math and science. In order for this to happen, changes need to be made in the deeper levels of socioeconomic and historical aspects, from the high tuition cost to the scarcity of role models in the field of architecture.
Hence, if I am awarded with the 2014 TakeLessons Scholarship, it will assist me in my pursuit to foster my educational and career aspirations of starting my own architecture business. The TakeLessons Scholarship will do more than just lift the burden of wondering how I will pay for college, it will provide me the opportunity to immerse myself in my studies. It will allow me to utilize my networking skills by take advantage of the benefits that college provides.