The smell of just relaxed hair mixes with the sight of Beamers and Sunday best from Von Muar. DuPage County’s Jack ‘n’ Jills welcome Jason Rawlins to the token black church. As an insider, I know that the black kids here are encouraged praise Jesus, finish college by 22, have a stable paycheck despite the recession by 24 and to start popping mini Obamas soon after.
The faint sound of cuff links clack during his first handshake. “Tell me about your self son,” says an eager black father looking to trade his daughter for social status and corporate cowrie shells. Confident and peeping game, Jason responds, “Um, well I’m a sophomore mechanical engineering major at NIU…and I’m 27”.
The black father smiles and retreats to his modern day tribe sitting in a nearby pew. No luck today. This young man is a late bloomer.
Jason wants to be the first African-American Formula 1 champion. He also wants to design cars for Lamborghini. He is the first in his family to go to college and says he feels it’s his calling to change the stigma of black men that haven’t bloomed yet. He says I’d see why if I visited his family. I’m all in, so we jump into his race ready 2000 Honda Accord and head to his parents’ Super Bowl party.
On the other side of the tracks, everyone is happy the Giant’s are up, and everyone feels like royalty with all the Crown going around. Through a haze of smoke, Jason observes three of his older brothers discuss cars and ample assets on a woman’s frame. They joke about the just-ripe college girls Jason should be getting with his “nerd swag”. His manicured dreadlocks fall over his shoulders as he shakes his head.
When I look around Jason’s party, thirty-somethings from Chicago’s south side cuss and show too much areola. They work at jobs with glass ceilings and are eager to talk about the dreams they left behind with fear of failure, a felony or first child. After talking to everyone, I don’t see how this young man fits into this picture. Jason is clean cut and calculated in a crisp plum button up and over-creased pants. As his brothers poke fun at him and his older sister suggests he’s either whipped or on the down-low, Jason looks like the modern day Joseph in a magic dream coat.
With the double consciousness of a Mississippi breed black man in a wintry Anglo-Midwest, he whispers to me, “I love them, but they need to get it together”. Jason’s eight siblings are whom he considers stuck in a “circle of excuses”.
“I was in that circle when I got out of high school. First it starts off as plain ignorance – just not knowing what’s outside your tiny ‘hood bubble’. But once you decide it’s more comfortable inside the bubble you start to get caught in a circle of excuses. People confuse that with being a late bloomer.”
At 27, Jason still has three more years of undergraduate work to complete. He just switched back to mechanical engineering from physical education – for the second time.
“I was afraid of all the Calculus, but then I was more afraid of not living my dreams.”
Jason was 7 the first time he heard the scream of a Formula 1 engine. “I knew then exactly what I wanted to do. I’m not just discovering it. I just had to find my way to making it happen.”
I ask Jason if he realizes most F1 racers are very accomplished by their late twenties. “I can’t stop now,” he says.
Despite being a late bloomer, something drives him to the finish line. Literally. Better a late bloomer than not to bloom at all.