Darrell L. Nelson II, 20’s
Los Angeles, CA
I am a Data Scientist working on modeling micro-fabrication processes in order to optimize and improve the process flow, as well as uncover important steps, features, and interactions that are critical to development.
What racial, ethnic, cultural community or communities do you identify with?
When and how did your family come to the United States? Where were you born?
I am an ADOS (American Descendant of Slavery), so when exactly my ancestors came to this country and from where is unclear. In the future, I do plan on doing some genetic investigating to see if I can find those answers myself.
I was born in Panorama City, CA which is located in Los Angeles County.
What are the strengths and challenges of being African American?
The strength in being a black man in America is definitely the community. No matter what region or state you're from, there is a shared experience that unites us all. It is this shared experience that creates a deeper bond that makes everyone feel more like family. There is just so much unspoken love, appreciation, and joy which truly makes the community a blessing to be apart of.
There are a lot of different nuanced challenges I could talk about here. But, the best way I could summarize it, that touches a little on a lot of issues, is the negative stereotyping and the effects it has on young males in my community.
Ever since I was young, Americans have always put black men in a box. I say Americans because blacks do this to each other as well. As a black man, particularly a young black man, we're told that it's either you strive to become an entertainer (e.g. singing, dancing, rapping, athlete, etc.) or you get labeled as useless to society. A person that will grow up to be a bad influence in their neighborhoods and an endangerment to others. It's this assumption that we're all "bad apples" and need to be disposed of, that causes significant trauma in my community.
I grew up in a single-parent household in a lower middle class neighborhood. My mom had to work 2 to 3 jobs all throughout my childhood in order for us to afford our home. Her hard work was my inspiration to do well in school and in extracurriculars. I studied hard, got A's and always participated in and won Spelling Bee's, Math Olympics, and Speech Meets.
But this performance seemed to unsettle my peers and many adults as it was outside of the status quo. I was always ridiculed for trying to act "white" and for being an "oreo," because I had a desire to learn. Raising my hand in class or getting A's in school was seen as something that young black men don't do. This perception that being dumb and/or lazy was the only thing a black male should be in an educational setting was pretty difficult for many of us to digest. I watched a lot of my childhood friends crack under that pressure and in an attempt to "be black" and deliberately not study for tests or even not turn their homework in even though their moms forced them to do it the night before. With so many black men growing up like I did, without a positive male role model in the house, many people prescribed to what the world was telling them a black men is. Either an entertainer or a criminal, but never an intellectual.
It was and still is extremely hard and frustrating. You have to fight everyday to break stereotypes and prove people wrong, even if those people are supposed to be helping you and having your best interest at heart. I was denied entry to the advanced courses in high school because my counselor thought I wasn't good enough... despite having high grades in middle school.
She told me that she was worried that the other kids would be too advanced for me. "Why is that?", I asked. She had no answer, but we both knew what she meant. I attended the classes anyways and graduated with honors. I was told by my college counselor that I wasn't smart enough to be an engineer and I should do something "less challenging." Again I asked, "Why is that?" I had a solid 3.8 GPA coming out of high school, surely it can't be due to my academic record. My counselor's response was that he didn't want to "set me up to fail." I registered for the classes and got my degree anyways.
It's this constant pressure from the outside world that keeps telling me I'm incapable, that I'm somehow unworthy based on the color of my skin that is truly the hardest challenge to overcome.
I will keep pressing on, not only for myself but for the generations behind me. I want them to know that they can be more than a stereotype. They can be anything.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
As a new grad with no experience, I was tasked with working on one of the much older tools that my company offered. This tool was originally designed for powerful, fast, and quick processes at the end of fabrication. But, I was tasked with trying to develop a much slower and precise critical process on this tool. Think of it as being given a jackhammer to do surgery with instead of a scalpel.
Needless to say, it was quite a difficult task. I had to develop many different techniques and practices that were never done on this tool before. But through the efforts of me and my team, the "sledgehammer" became the first end of fabrication tool to be qualified for a critical process in the history of my company! This technological breakthrough secured business upwards of $20 million dollars in its first year of implementation.
What is one thing you learned or appreciate from your family growing up?
The biggest takeaway from my childhood was that I learned that through hard work and dedication, anything was possible. I didn't have some type of photographic memory that made school or academic competitions easier for me. What I did have was a mom that was insistent that I try my best in everything I do, no matter what. She would drill me day after day on words for the Spelling Bee, or write out practice problems for my school's annual Math Olympics. Despite how hard she worked, she always made sure that I was prepared for the next task ahead.
It didn't matter where I started, or how bad I sucked at spelling (I was really bad). We would keep drilling those words until I got it. We would practice words months in advance and it was my success in placing or winning these events, even though I wasn't naturally good at them. That made me a believer in true hard work and dedication.
Do you speak your family's native language? Why or why not?
Yes, English is the only language spoken in our household.
What advice do you have for the younger generations in your African American and ADOS communities?
My best advice is to stay strong in the face of adversity. There are going to be so many people that say you can't do something. So many people that say you aren't good enough, or that they've never seen someone of your complexion complete this task. You can't listen to them, even though they will be your counselors, advisors, mentors, teachers, and professors.
I know it's tough, but you will have to dig deep and find your own strength to persevere.
What gives you the greatest joy in life?
Being better. I am a hardcore self-improver. I'm always looking for ways to get better physically, mentally, socially, financially - you name it!! I love challenging myself and working on my weaknesses, and any slight improvement makes me feel alive.
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