On a muggy Saturday morning in August, 18-year-old Dajourn Anuku stood outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City, wearing cutoff jean shorts and a baseball cap sporting the phrase “Be Humble.” A large, meaty kid, Dajourn was sweating beneath the weight of his massive backpack and a plastic shopping bag stuffed with laundry detergent, paper towels, and dryer sheets. Earlier that morning, he’d lugged all of this from a Georgetown University dorm room to his bus, where the driver requested $35 for the luggage. Dajourn had the money but wasn’t willing to part with it. He’d just finished a pre-college summer program at one of the country’s most prestigious universities, but he was still the son of Nigerian and Jamaican immigrants from blue-collar Canarsie, Brooklyn—a kid who schlepped his laundry detergent, paper towels, and dryer sheets across five states because that stuff cost money.
Luckily, Dajourn was good at persuading people. “He can talk his way out of anything,” his father, George, told me that morning as we drove to Port Authority. Sure enough, Dajourn convinced the driver to drop the luggage fee.
If Dajourn could get himself out of sticky situations, he could also get himself into promising ones. There aren’t many black, first-generation students at Georgetown, which Dajourn refers to as a “PWI,” or predominantly white institution. This year, 12 percent of Georgetown’s admitted freshmen were black, and 11 percent were first-generation college students. The school has need-blind admissions, but the median family income of a Georgetown student is about $229,000, and 74 percent of its students come from the country’s top 20 percent of earners. In contrast, only 3.1 percent of students come from the bottom 20 percent.
“I can attain as much as possible, but I’m a black person.”
Admission into this rarefied world required a mental, emotional, and physical effort on the part of Dajourn and his parents that was nothing short of extraordinary. And Dajourn’s future is not promised: Though the majority of Georgetown students experience upward mobility after graduation, a 2018 study on race and economic opportunity in America found that “black Americans have substantially lower rates of upward mobility and higher rates of downward mobility than whites, leading to large income disparities that persist across generations.” Further, the statistics showing that children of immigrants tend to out-earn their parents don’t necessarily apply to second-generation blacks.
Even if he doesn’t know these figures, Dajourn sees them play out in his everyday life. “I can attain as much as possible, but I’m a black person,” he told me the week before he returned to Washington, D.C., to officially start his freshman year. “That’s going to overshadow everything else. Maybe [it would be different] if I was a white man whose family moved to America.”
Dajourn says he’s given up on the American dream; he’s not sure he ever believed in it. Still, he wants to succeed and is incredibly eager to get ahead. If there’s ever going to be real mobility — and real equality — in America, Dajourn says it must be reimagined in the image of kids like him: the ones who are not humble, but persuasive. The ones busting their way into elite PWI’s like Georgetown, the very places they don’t belong.