The spring before Zaid Hightower was ready to begin classes at The Ohio State University, he received an email from the Todd A. Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male, inviting him to attend the Center’s Early Arrival Program (EAP). It was his mother who read the email and told Zaid that he needed to attend the program.
“My mom is hard-working and full of compassion for everyone. She really wanted me to go to college, and I really wanted to do my best for her.” Zaid’s mom believed he would benefit from attending the BNRC’s Early Arrival Program, and, he says, she was right: “I owe all of my success in college to the Bell Center. I’ve met friends, mentors, faculty, upper classmen, and found a work-study job at the Hale Center through the BNRC.” Zaid has also given back to the Bell Center, paying it forward by serving as an EAP Ambassador, mentoring incoming freshman just as he was mentored.
Since participating in the Bell Center’s EAP, Zaid has also connected with other programs at the Bell Center, including the Leadership Institute, which prepares students for campus and community leadership, and the National Black Male Retreat, designed to promote self-awareness, unity, academic motivation, leadership, and manhood.
“The Leadership Institute helped develop my character and shaped me as a leader while the Black Male Retreat helped connect me to other Black males and really showed me just how special the nationally-known Bell Center is,” Zaid said. But Zaid’s favorite program remains the Band of Brothers, which he has attended each of the past three years. “Band of Brothers is an extension of the BNRC, providing peer-to-peer relationships on academics and brotherhood. It reminds me a lot of Ginn Academy, the all-boys high school I attended in Cleveland.”
Zaid has also connected with the staff at the Bell Center, who have provided him with support and direction. When Zaid first came to Ohio State, he had some difficulty transitioning from a small public all-male high school to a large university. “I was a bit lost, not knowing my purpose or niche.” He received some excellent advice from then BNRC staff member Todd Suddeth: “Build your own community.” It was advice that Zaid took to heart, getting more involved at Ohio State and building relationships that would guide and assist him in his professional and personal life.
Another connection was Dr. Patty Cunningham, who taught a class on Black male civic engagement that Zaid took. “That class and Dr. Cunningham gave me a lot of confidence. I was fortunate to work with her through the Buckeye Civic Engagement Connection, where she is the Director of Social Change. Over the summer I started a community garden on East Hildreth Avenue and worked with a few students from Champion Middle School and other community members to teach them how to grow their own food.” Zaid has continued his work in Champion Middle School for its “After School All Stars" program where he teaches an after-school class centered around healthy nutrition, wellness, and community development.
That community garden and health and wellness class fits in well with Zaid’s career path: he is majoring in psychology and minoring in agriculture, with a focus on urban agriculture. Zaid plans to graduate in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Although he is certain he wants to continue with an advanced degree in psychology, Zaid is still deciding which path he will take to do so: counseling, therapy, or clinical psychology. He does know one thing: “I want to get my PhD and head back to Cleveland. There, my degrees will help me to cultivate the growth of plants and people.”