Off the beaten track
Writing for an article that appears on Forbes.com, Jermaine Meadows credits Queensborough Community College for getting him on track, off track and on track again. The Brooklyn athlete did not want to “end up like everyone else around [him] – in prison or dead” so he chose to “change [his] circumstances through education”. The Queensborough alumnus, now a graduate student at SUNY Albany, tells QCC News he is considering a career in higher education policy and hopes to broaden opportunities for disadvantaged children, especially those whose parents are incarcerated.
“Going to the streets was not an option. That was something I did not want to be involved in,” Jermaine Meadows recalled on a turning-cold, mid-Autumn morning from the state capital.
A self-described non-sportsman, growing up in the shadow of his father’s frequent imprisonment, Meadows found himself taking up football and track & field in ninth grade in East New York, aided by a coach who helped him navigate school and life and instilled in him confidence and self-love.
“Coach Mollison taught the whole team that if you can put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”
Sports and athletic discipline were also gateways to higher education for Meadows. As a runner at Queensborough, he competed across the city and throughout the Northeast.
Meadows was a strong sprinter and loved track according to Coach Chris Omeltchenko, a trainer of Queensborough athletes for the last 20-years. “His mind was moving equally fast and he wanted to improve, always, and move forward and do big things. He had an ambition to succeed academically.”
That ambition, and financial necessity, put Meadows on a different track. He hung up his running shoes in 2015 to pursue a four-year degree instead.
“I loved track but track did not promise me a future. I decided that all the time I spent practicing would be better spent in the library. I would stay at Queensborough until closing time nearly every night,” said Meadows. He took on a full-time security guard role, worked weekends and overnights, and commuted two hours each way, every day, to campus from East New York or The Rockaways, where his father lived.
With money tight, Meadows learned about and benefitted from the extensive services offered by CUNY’s ASAP program, including Tuesday and Thursday tutoring sessions.
“For a first-generation college student like me, it was a game-changer. My ASAP adviser, Bridget Tambini, was amazing,” Meadows explained.
ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Program) helps students earn associate degrees within three years by providing a range of financial, academic, and personal support including comprehensive and personalized advisement, career counseling, tutoring, waivers for tuition and mandatory fees, MTA MetroCards, and additional financial assistance to defray the cost of textbooks.
It is among a number of Queensborough support services that emphasize peer mentoring, intentional academic advising and economic aid, according to College President Dr. Tim Lynch, who like Meadows, is a first generation college student.
“I grew up in the city’s public housing and my family struggled financially. Like Jermaine, it was education and the support I received from the CUNY system that changed the trajectory of my life,” said Dr. Lynch, a graduate of Brooklyn College, City College, and the Graduate School and University Center.
“There were so many people in my neighborhood, family and schools thinking I was going to end up like so many in the community, back and forth to prison,” said Meadows. “I wanted to break that stereotype, focus on my education and get myself together.”
Meadows graduated Queensborough in 2016 and attended SUNY Brockport (his mentor Tanya Odom, facilitated his first tour of the college), earning a Bachelor’s degree in Education with a concentration in Adapted Physical Education.
“I love sports and wanted to help people with a disability who wanted be physically active.”
It was a six-hour drive from Brooklyn to Brockport, and the education experience was a world-away for a young man who had never been out of New York City, except to run.
“I left an environment where people who looked like me were harming each other every day. Being a minority and Muslim at Brockport changed my whole perspective on life. It made me realize that I had been living in a bubble. And there was much more going on outside of Brooklyn,” Meadows recounted, acknowledging encounters he had with other college students about race relations, geo politics and government that “were sometimes hostile and always ignorant.”
Now, at SUNY Albany, Meadows is tracking a career in Education Policy and Leadership, spanning interests from middle school education -- “if you can reach kids in sixth grade and show them wide and diverse career options, you can really make a difference” – to higher education, where “we need to be more inclusive.”
A consultant and frequent speaker on campus and at high schools, Meadows is a positive influence on the community and works to connect students to jobs and mentors.
“I want them to develop and grow. I never knew these [educational] opportunities or possibilities really existed. I didn’t know I would go to college,” Meadows added.
Driven by his experiences in middle school, his formative years, Meadows is also focusing on a “bigger-picture” project, intended to improve long-term relations among and between family members caught-up, too often, in the injustice of the justice system.
“I am building relations with people who are presently incarcerated so they can talk to me about its impact on their lives and their relationships with their children,” Meadow said about his personal passion.
Relying on resiliency, persistence, his faith and a lot planning in order to go the distance, it is a message Meadows is eager to share.
“One of the biggest lessons learned, and to talk about, is how important it is to truly believe in yourself. Don’t let your circumstances conquer you. If you fall down, get back up,” he advised.
Meadows, whose father always remained connected to his son’s life, is looking to be a role model and a change agent for people in his community and beyond.
“He always says he’s proud of me. I inspire him. He loves the man I’ve become.”
Read Jermaine Meadows’ first-hand account of his time at Queensborough and why his community college experience is part of his “motivation for paying it forward” at Forbes.