KEVIN L. COLE, JR.
A thousand plus miles away from home and comfort. No family, no friends, no friends of family, and no family of friends. Moving to a new place by yourself can be incredibly overwhelming, but it can also be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.
For me, the first big move was to the scenic, mountainous views of Asheville, NC from the beautiful, flat lands of Prairie View, Texas – right outside of Houston. To be completely honest, it wasn’t on my radar, but I guess it was the path that best suited me in order to help me prepare for my future.
It started the summer before my final year at Prairie View A&M University. I went to visit my girlfriend at the time, who was participating in a summer research program at Berkeley, in the Bay Area. After exploring San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley for a few days, I met up with my family in New Orleans. Next up was Chicago for Thanksgiving. Finally, towards the end of my undergraduate career, I visited Seattle, Nashville, DC, Pittsburgh, and a few more cities as I was flown out to interview with different engineering companies.
With all of that traveling in my final year of school, I began to realize a few things: 1) I had a lot more to learn about life and the interesting people of the world, 2) The world is a lot bigger – and oddly smaller at the same time – than I previously thought, and 3) One of the best ways to experience the opportunity to grow is to place yourself in an unfamiliar position or place.
So, what did I do in response to realizing these three points? I decided to take a job that would relocate me outside of Texas.
One of the companies that I interviewed for, offered me a position at their office in Atlanta. Yes! An exciting city filled with other young, black professionals that also has a booming entertainment industry. I would be stupid not to accept the job. What do you think I did? Turned it down…for what? (Please excuse my corny play on words. You have to remember that I’m an engineer). Obviously, I decided to take the job. Well it just so happened that a few weeks after accepting the position and respectfully declining other offers, I was told that the Atlanta location was going through a restructure process and my position had been dropped.
Damn. What now?
The company then informed me that they would try to find a position for me in Denver, Dallas, or Asheville. “Maybe I’ll get Denver”. Nope. “I don’t really want to live at home right now, but it’s a big area”. It didn’t matter, Dallas was a no go. “It looks like I’ll end up in the city of Asheville”. Yippy.
The only thing I knew about Asheville was that the local university, UNCA, used to have a 7’7” basketball player named Kenny George and the first “Hunger Games” movie was shot in the area. Initially, I didn’t want to move to a city that I haven’t heard about, and that also happened to have a low population of folks that looked like me; however, I remembered that I wanted to grow, and I remembered the words of one of my greatest friends that continuously play in my head. He would say, “The path to the top is a lonely one at times. You will be presented with so many opportunities, but you will have to be willing to go alone and step out of your comfort zone.” With that being said, I decided to continue on this terrifying journey.
Asheville was an interesting place to begin this journey. For a state filled with “red” mindsets, the city is extremely liberal with dog-loving, tree-hugging, “you do you, and I’ll do me” weirdos that love different forms of art. The individuals of the city and the immediate area made the move welcoming. Artists seem to be nomads in search of an unexplainable freedom, and are typically open to new people and ideas. With that, you get a lot of people from different places meeting up in one area that are more than willing to accept because they themselves have a burning desire to be accepted.
The perfect scenario! At least I thought. Although the people were perfect – besides their real southern drawl that would put any black person on edge, there were still a number of obstacles that I had to learn to overcome. Obstacles that I believe most people will have to get by once they move to a land completely foreign to them.
The change of moving to a new place can be extremely difficult, especially after trading in everyone and everything that you know for strangers in unfamiliar places. You’ll arrive to your destination high on life without a major worry in the world. After a few days, possibly because you were fortunate enough to have someone travel with you, you begin to realize that you are alone and on your own.
Oh shit. It’s been a while since you’ve had to go somewhere new and completely start over. You don’t realize until you’re put in this position, but you haven’t had to make new friends in this way in what seems to be an eternity. Over the last few years you’ve at least been with someone that you knew while making new friends. Not this time! You suddenly begin to recall how you felt the first day of beginning classes at a new school. Do you even remember how to make friends without a crutch?
On top of not knowing anyone, you don’t really know where to go to meet new people because you aren’t familiar with the area. Crap! Where are you welcomed? Where do you go if you need help? Where can you go to just relax? You begin to question if it was wise to move to a new place on your own.
These were probably my top two concerns from which others stemmed from; not knowing anyone and being unfamiliar with the area. It has always been easy for me to make friends, so that wasn’t necessarily the problem. The problem was not having someone that I’ve known for years, someone that I could trust during challenging times. Questions in regards to my race also filled my head – this is a big thing to any black person that has taken the time to do research on the history of the United States. How are black people treated here? Will I have to worry about being beaten by a mob of idiots, or just the daily microaggressions that I’m used to dealing with? How will people feel when a problem with race comes up?
SN: the last question is a problem that is extremely frustrating to deal with. Again growing up in the U.S. with parents and family that are sure to teach you history from personal accounts or the accounts of others, you know that there are problems with police brutality and systemic oppression. What’s worse is when there are cases of police brutality when the police murder someone innocent, and get off with paid leave. There was one point when two, or three, stories reached mainstream media – let’s be real, there are way more cases than those that are featured – and I had to show up to work to hear complaints about something so small when it compares to continuous threat of being gunned down in your own land. It’s as if non-blacks really don’t care…I’ll save my views for another time.
Through these initial concerns, and many more, I began to question if it was a wise decision to move a thousand plus miles from everyone and everything I knew. A thousand plus miles from comfort. Maybe I should just pack up, and find a job closer to home. It wouldn’t be so bad going back to what I knew. Or, would it be?
I began to think the issue with me wanting to go home because of potential racism wasn’t it; you learn to deal with it because it’s everywhere – to Asheville’s defense, there was a small problem, compared to most places I’ve been, with racism. The issue that had me wanting to pack everything and head back had more to do with me being uncomfortable.
My comfort level was at an all-time low with me being truly independent for the first time in my life. I’ve lived by myself before, but I had people that I trusted within a 30 minute ride from me. This time people had to take a flight in order to get to me in a “reasonable” amount of time. I was uncomfortable because I was unaware of what was on the other side of this experience. Would I succeed? Would I fail? Would I remain the same, or would I grow?
Three years since moving to Asheville, I asked myself one of my initial questions. Was it wise to move away from comfort, and I would have to say it was. Moving away from everything has taught me so much about myself. Through the years, I was able to see how strong I am as a person. I’ve been able to see the growth in my faith, and I’ve also gained confidence in myself. Moving to Asheville has given me a small taste of freedom, and now I’m hooked. The most valuable experience that I’ve gained from moving a thousand plus miles from comfort was the experience of getting to know self.
I would definitely say that I’ve succeeded! I have an understanding of who I am, and who I want to be. I’m currently in L.A. chasing the freedom that I want as I constantly work toward becoming…Me.
Through my moves I’ve gotten to see the humanity in a number of different types of people. I’ve conversed with people from other parts of the world that just so happen to know some of my friends in the states. I’ve also been able to realize the ways that this opportunity has helped me grow into who I currently am.
Though I miss all my loved ones and everything about Texas, being so far from everyone has helped me grow into a man of patience that is looking to gain an understanding in different situations. I'm not going to say that it has been easy; in fact, it was extremely difficult in the beginning because of an unfortunate circumstance. Yet, being away from everyone and everything that I knew forced me to deal with issues on my own, all while testing my faith in the Most High that I gained from a previous life lesson.
If you’re considering moving away from your comfort zone, whether it be physically, mentally, or emotionally, I recommend it! Getting away from the things that you are used to brings the opportunity to find out how strong you truly are. It will lead you to new experiences, and help you see that life is bigger than you may have previously expected.
To Fanyang, Jacky, and Pritam, I applaud you all for moving to the other side of the world. That shit takes courage! I can only hope to one day have that amount of fearlessness.
Next Stop: Who knows?