LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Casey Gerald grew up in Texas, the son of a famous college football hero who fell on hard times, taking drugs and ending up in prison. His mom was bipolar and abandoned him when he was a preteen, leaving him to raise himself. In his memoir "There Will Be No Miracles Here," Gerald details growing up gay and black and how that informed his hard road to Yale and, eventually, a Harvard MBA. It also inspired his mission to help young people live a fulfilling life.
We start off with a passage from the book. Gerald was 18. He'd just been recruited to play football at Yale. And after a signing ceremony in front of a packed stadium in Dallas, Gerald was approached by a groundskeeper.
CASEY GERALD: (Reading) He rested his worn hands on my shoulders. Tears rolled down his tired cheeks. Go all the way, son. Go all the way. I was not sure how to get to all the way. But I felt in the hands of the men and heard in the voices of the women and saw in the eyes of the little children that if I went all the way, then they would go, too. And it seemed that they had been waiting so long to go.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You capture so well the burden there, the pressure of carrying the hopes of a whole community with you. What was that like?
GERALD: It's a very lonely path. But more importantly, it's a very dangerous path. I write in the book about the process of going from a kid to being a symbol. You know, you take a kid like me from a forgotten world like Oak Cliff, and you send him off to Yale and Harvard Business School, and you put him on the cover of magazines, and you put him on the stage at TED. And it allows us to imagine or to pretend that there is not a conveyor belt leading most people in this country from nothing to nowhere.
You see, I'm a glitch in the American machine, which works off this fantasy called the American dream. But as long as I'm quiet about that, as long as I don't confess how little sense this journey makes, then the world can keep on ticking. But I become a liar. I become an illusion.
I'll give you an example. I gave an early copy of the book to a sort of little brother friend of mine who was from a hard neighborhood in Portland, childhood much like mine, went on to Yale and was just selected to be a Rhodes scholar. And he goes back - he's this 22-year-old boy.
He goes back home, and all these people are sort of crowding him now. You know, oh, my God. You've got to be the president. You've got to be a congressman. You've got to be the mayor. You've got to save us all. He's trapped. And so he read the book, and he showed this passage about symbols to his mother. And he said, mama, this is what I've been trying to explain to you about how I'm feeling, about how stuck I feel, about how I want to get out of this sort of illusion.
And she says something very interesting, which is indicative. She says, so what? You're going to give up now? And he said, no, it's not that I'm giving up. It's just that I'm not going to live like this. I'm not going to do this anymore. And what I'm trying to say in this book is that if those of us who are held up as a standard of this society actually feel that we have mutilated ourselves to be that standard, then why are we prescribing that standard to other people?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to talk a little bit about Yale because it's been in the news, as you may have noticed, with the accusations against Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee. You know, Yale is the heart of the elite. The institution is designed, as you put it in the book, to make you into kings. Without getting into specific allegations against Kavanaugh, you know, there's been a lot of discussion about the culture at Yale. What are your thoughts?
GERALD: When I was in college, I started a group that I write about called the Yale Black Men's Union. And I went back a few years ago for their freshman induction. And there was a senior official who gave a speech to these 50 18-year-old black boys in America. His message was, hey. If you're a token, be the best token you can be.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's quite a message.
GERALD: I was apoplectic, you see. My message to them was, we can't have any more great, dead man. My understanding, my experience of places like Yale and Harvard, is that they are extraordinarily gifted at preparing great, rich, powerful, dead people. They're not at all equipped and perhaps aligned against educating and creating free people.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you say Harvard and Yale aren't creating people who are free, can you explain that?
GERALD: My first year at Harvard Business School, three classmates and I decided instead of going off to slave away in a cubicle all summer, we'd take a road trip. We drove 8,000 miles across the country, started this nonprofit called MBAs Across America that was really trying to provide an alternate education. There is a pedagogical exercise going on here, which is that, hey, we're taught this one thing that doesn't work. Let's imagine another way of being.
One of the things we did was to design a curriculum helping students ask the question of one - what am I actually on this earth to do? I mean, what is my purpose? What actually brings me alive? And also, how do I help use my gifts to solve the big challenges that I see in my community or in my country? Very simple questions. Now this course that is asking those questions is the most popular elective course at Harvard Business School three years in. So that's what I mean. I'm not talking about some huge, violent revolution. Although, it is, I think, a very important internal revolution in terms of what really matters to my generation.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Casey Gerald's memoir is "There Will Be No Miracles Here." Thank you so very much.
GERALD: Thank you, Lulu. I appreciate it.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.