By Joe Popis
Semaj Shelton is a student-athlete at the University of Detroit Mercy. In the future, he plans on becoming a dentist in the Metro-Detroit area. His experiences in life have shaped him into the person he is today. His past helped him plan for his future. Semaj has seen the good and bad of living in Detroit as well as Grosse Pointe. He has overcome negative experiences with his teachers, peers, and police officers in order to better himself and the people around him.
JP: Who are the people who have most influenced your life, and how have they affected you?
Shelton: I would say my mom is the most influential person in my life. I can see how some may see this as a typical answer, but I have many reasons for this answer. My mom has been a single mother who has raised three soon to be four young men and one girl. Throughout my life, I have seen my mom work, go to school, and still find a way to provide for our family by herself. This is why my mom is the most influential person in my life.
JP: Where have you lived, and how have those places affected your life?
Shelton: Throughout my life, I have lived in two different cities. Each of these cities has affected my life differently. When my family lived in Detroit, Michigan, I remember my mom’s car being broken into every other week. I also remember sleeping on the floor for New Year’s Eve due to gunshots continually going off, seeing my family members getting arrested, and other tragic events.
Even though I was a young kid when I experienced these obstacles, I have always known that I do not want to go back to that lifestyle. Those events have always motivated me to work harder than most people, whether in sports or school.
When moving to Grosse Pointe, I was able to see a different style of living. I was able to be in connect with some of the wealthiest people in the state. I always knew that if I wanted to be as successful as my peers, I would have to do some of the things their parents did to become that successful.
JP: Describe a story when you have felt oppressed or constrained by power structures? How do you feel you have overcome these restraints?
Shelton: I would say the biggest obstacle in my life has been the education system. Most people may not see a problem with the school system, but it is apparent to a person of color. There are not enough teachers of color in suburban neighborhoods. I have always felt that people help others who typically look like them. In my experience, teachers who are Caucasian will give more help to Caucasian students unless they are instructed to help the other students due to a disability. I personally have never had an African-American teacher. With this obstacle, I feel like I have always needed to be more persistent or ask for more help than other students.
JP: What is diversity to you? What is inclusion to you?
Shelton: My dad has always told me that diversity is 15% of African-Americans in a population. For example, if you are with a group of students, there should always be 15% African-Americans. This means a lot to me because I have never experienced a population with 15% or more African-Americans for the majority of my life.
Inclusion is when every person, no matter race or culture, is included and welcomed in society.
JP: What experiences have most influenced you, and why?
Shelton: The most influential experience I have ever had is realizing that you are still looked at differently from society no matter how successful you are as an African American. When I was a senior in high school, I drove my dad’s brand new Corvette, and I was pulled over twice within 10 minutes. In both situations, I could tell the police officers negatively looked at me. They asked me questions such as if the car was mine and where I was driving the vehicle. This situation influenced me by showing that I will always have to work harder and have better character than others to feel like a “normal” citizen.