JSA, Innercity L.A. to UVA: A Young Alum Profile
Friday, December 18th, 2015 @ 6:34PM
At JSA, we believe in teaching our students to lift themselves up—and to lift others up along with them. Young alum Floyd Black (SoCal ’15) knows this first hand. Rising from a difficult innercity background, he’s learned to lead with a listening and wise-beyond-his-years ear. We share in this story the transformational opportunity a young man had to become a leader, with the help of the people who saw something in him. He hopes to someday pay it forward for his community of South L.A.
There are just a few things about Floyd Black that he’d like people to know about him. He’s proud of his innercity background, he likes applesauce, and he believes that his life story is a living truth that anything is possible.
Floyd was a student at the Alliance Neuwirth Leadership Academy in South Los Angeles while he was hiding the difficult circumstances of his home life. Raised without his father and mother, he floated from one place to another, occasionally sleeping on couches and having to learn to take care of himself from a young age. He started off his first year in high school with Cs and a fail. At school, he was shy. “Mr. Gamboa, the assistant principal, was the first faculty member who took an interest in me,” he said with equanimity. “I mostly hung out with the janitor and security guard everyday. He pushed me to get out of my comfort zone and get out of my shell.”
Like many of the students that he served, Miguel Gamboa knew that Floyd was dealing with social and environmental pressures that were isolating and acted as barriers to achievement. “I grew up in the area, I saw the struggles, ” he shares, now a principal of the Neuwirth Leadership Academy. He encouraged Floyd to dream bigger and suggested that he attend a JSA summer school session at the University of Virginia to see what life could be like.
“When he first said to go to the summer school, I said no, no thanks,” Floyd laughed. “I was worried about the costs, but he told me that with a scholarship it’s already paid for. He called my family and they said ok. It was a life-changing experience.”
Summer school at UVA was like nothing he had ever experienced before.
To just get out of South Los Angeles was like nothing Floyd had ever experienced before. As one of the original “Public Ivies,” UVA certainly helped him to dream bigger. Floyd was surrounded by world class research facilities affiliated with Nobel Laureates and Marshall Scholars, college students bustling from one class to another with books titled like Phenomenology of Spirit and Principles of Biochemistry, and grass lawns where young people studied and played on a beautiful, brick-laden campus.
“I was intimidated at first because the other JSA students there were so smart. They knew so much about the economy, about the situation in Afghanistan—these were topics that were foreign to me at the time,” he said. Over time, the inclusive environment of JSA and the excitement and passion of the other students rubbed off on him. “My confidence came out. I didn’t have the resources at an early age but worked hard to pick up on the topics that were being taught. I learned to value my opinions.”
Attending summer school at UVA and, the following summer, JSA’s summer school at Georgetown taught Floyd how to manage his time and stay focused academically. When he got back to South Los Angeles, he stayed on with JSA. “The summer program changed my life. I thought, if this is what a couple of weeks with JSA can do, staying on for the full year could really build up my confidence and public speaking skills.”
With support of teacher advisor Kip Morales, he and the other students in his chapter built a community around them that inspired hope for their college dreams. He won several best speaker gavel awards, and worked with motivated peers of other backgrounds. “We annoyed the heck out of each other most of the time, but we were able to grow together,” Floyd again laughed easily. “The competition brought us together. I met certain people I could trust and who I could call and would be in my corner no matter.” Some of his best relationships at JSA were with adults and mentors that still remain in his life today—people he could still say are like family to him.
Sometimes, positive experiences come full circle. Floyd is now a undergraduate student at UVA, and he’s passed his first semester of a full course load.
Floyd will never forget how JSA and his school mentors had helped to lift him up, and he’ll also never forget where he came from. After finishing his education, he hopes to go back to South Los Angeles and give back through public office. “There are a lot of problems in the innercity. There are some kids that think I’m going to finish college just to get something better for myself, but what’s the point of achieving high if you don’t bring something back to your community? Ultimately, it’s the same community that raised us and brought us up.”
Through JSA, Floyd found his voice. Of the big lessons he wanted to share from his experiences, he says, “Learn to be cognizant of different cultures. Know that you will disagree with people and people will disagree with you, but try to understand. We actually can make a difference. Put in the work, put in the goals; work hard at your goals, and you can.”