Brian Causey has a message for high school students: Dont drop out. | Photo provided
Updated: October 2, 2013 6:16AM
Brian Causey’s letter to me was direct, candid and to the point, sounding like an Alcoholics Anonymous introduction for high school dropouts.
“My name is Brian and I’m a high school dropout,” the 48-year-old East Chicago man wrote.
“The very moment I dropped out of school the entire dynamic of my life shifted,” he said. “My trajectory flipped backward and created a ripple effect that is still felt in my life decades later. I wish I could go back to the day before I made that horrible decision.”
He can’t, of course.
But after decades of struggles, three years of ongoing unemployment, and a lot of soul-searching, Causey has a message for teenagers, especially male minority ones.
“Stay in school, stay in school, stay in school,” he told me repeatedly on my latest radio show.
“Jerry, I’m less than two months away from my 49th birthday playing catch-up in a rapidly evolving society,” he said. “I’m aware that I may never catch up and this is a frightening thought that could very easily become my reality.”
All because he didn’t complete high school, quitting at age 16, figuring he could “beat the system” without a formal education. Instead, the system has beat him down.
“I didn’t have a clue,” he told me.
And today’s teens, especially minority males?
“They don’t have a clue, either,” he quickly replied.
“The numbers of minority males dropping out of high school are staggering,” he noted. “Over 70 percent of all prison inmates are high school dropouts.”
Causey said he didn’t use drugs or alcohol as a teen. He wasn’t in a gang, wasn’t a troublemaker, and he had the intelligence to easily pass tests at school. But he had personal issues, including depression, which sabotaged his family’s plans for him.
Both of his parents graduated from high school and the majority of his family did, too, with a handful also earning college degrees. As a kid, he dreamed of someday attending UCLA, Pepperdine University or Ohio State.
“Dropping out of high school was never a thought, yet I did it anyway,” he said. “My decision had tangled roots just like every other black boy who decided to drop out.”
With school back in session across the region, Causey hopes his message is relayed to those teens who need it most. And I agree. He’s also willing to visit Northwest Indiana high schools to talk directly to teens, most notably young black males.
“The issue of black boys dropping out of high school has been studied, dissected and think-tanked to the point of ad nauseam by endless numbers of scholars with graphs, charts and recitations. Still the numbers are staggering because scholars are mainly talking to one another about this crisis, and no one is talking to the dropout or the boys who are on the fringes of dropping out,” he writes in an open letter to black teens titled, “Something Got In The Way.”
“My brother, if you are currently in school please stay in school and graduate. If you are thinking about dropping out, please don’t. And if you have dropped out, please go back,” he writes.
Most high school dropouts live in poverty while enduring humiliation on a continual basis, similar to his experiences, he said.
Causey was no stranger to working fast-food jobs to make ends meet, typically two at a time — Burger King, Rally’s, McDonald’s. It didn’t help him avoid living in poverty.
“Poverty forced me to live in a way I had never lived before,” he explained.
For years, he wore a donated police uniform jacket from a box of tattered Goodwill clothes. For five winters, he didn’t own a pair of matching gloves. He didn’t even own a decent pair of underwear, and he had only one pair of shoes that were unraveling and separated from their soles.
“I lined the inside of each sole with three bags and slid the front of each foot into two bags before sliding my feet into my shoes,” he said. “I mastered a way of taking off my shoes while at the same time pushing the wet plastic bags to the toe of the shoe so that no one would see my disgrace.”
His latest job, as a retail manager of corporate dining services for a major insurance company in downtown Chicago, lasted 10 years. He figured he was set for life, even without a formal education. He figured wrong.
“My job was phased out in 2010 due to the economic crisis,” he said. “I fell and fell hard. I’m still on the ground because of my lack of education.”
Causey said he has submitted more than 300 resumes in the past three years. Not one company has hired him, despite a dozen or so interviews. The formal education of other job candidates always trumped his job-related experience.
“I’ve learned that having work experience without a strong educational foundation is like putting clean clothes on a body that hadn’t been bathed,” he said. “I’m now a middle-aged man without a degree, competing with college-educated applicants who are younger and cheaper to employ.”
Causey finally earned his GED, and he’s currently a student at Ivy Tech Community College, majoring in communications and even landing on the coveted dean’s list. He hopes to re-enter the corporate service industry in a management position.
“I should be enjoying the height of my earning years, but instead I’m a middle-aged college student competing for employment opportunities with younger and better educated candidates. All because I dropped out of school.”
Causey is eager to share his personal story — hardships, embarrassments and all — with young black males who wrongly think, as he once did, that they can beat the system without an education.
“I also want to share my experiences with everyone who loves and cares about young black youth,” he said emphatically.
Contact Causey via email at email@example.com, or I can connect you with him.
Connect with Jerry via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.