you Wow there’s some wonderful speakers here today I just want to kind of have everyone given a round of applause for putting this together the folks that put this together pretty awesome right and I don’t know if you know it or not but this institution has helped to guide a lot of my life’s work it’s helped to guide a lot of people in this country I mean I mean it wasn’t too long ago that the President of the United States was here at this institution I think on this very stage I want to talk about something we don’t often see I’m a sociologist and I can actually say that now because I graduated right I’m a sociologist and I study the institutions and the impact they have on people but also I study how people have impacts on institutions and I think we don’t really know how often we are touched and shaped by institutions how often they guide our lives and shape our decisions and take away opportunities this is me in 1990 yes 30 years old it’s my mother and I was born into a family my biological mother and my biological father we’re not there for me they weren’t there for me for problems of their own sake they couldn’t they have problems with substance abuse right and so my mother who you see her in the picture it’s my grandmother she happens to be my grandmother and her and her husband my grandfather both adopted me when I was about two years old and I remember one thing my grandfather told me once before he said you know Brandon I remember your great-grandma she she wanted us to make a promise and she said I was with my sister Danielle and she said you know I want you to promise me that no matter what happens you won’t split them up and I also want you to promise me that you’ll take care of them and now at the time my grandfather was having problems of his own and so he found this quite difficult but he and his wife my mother they adopted me I was about three years old they moved to the other side of the town because I could hardly afford anything in the city in Oklahoma and and then at that point I guess I was kind of saved right and this was my first touch point with institutions at the adoption agency I had no control over that but that institution influenced my life for the rest of my life and then I think at that point fast forward to 2015 somehow I made it to Georgetown and I graduated and I’m you know I’m still an amazement by this and you will too when if your graduate or a person in the College you’ll also experience this I I had family that came to me and they and they were really excited and it was really interesting to me because I just paid attention to doing the work I didn’t really pay attention to like when I would get to this point but I ended up graduating somehow right and it it changed my life it really changed my life so I want to talk to you about how institution has really shaped my life and I was a very to say the least a difficult young boy I I just wanted I just wanted to fit in I want to be cool and one of the things that one of the things that I did to be cool is when I was in middle school I took a pellet gun to school and the pellet gun looks like a real gun it did not look like the pellet gun that it was and subsequently I was expelled from school I was expelled from school for the rest of the year which was following probably about 40 days and so I came home and of course you know I have to break the news to my granddad before the school does right because that’s what an honest kid would

do and I’m talking to my granddad and I’m like you know that I took this kind of school you know I didn’t mean to and and that created a lot of tension in my household and and I couldn’t handle it you know I ran away I left I ran away from my home I was about 14 years old and I didn’t know the power of influence at that point but my younger cousin who was also adopted by my parents ran away too and I thought wow okay great well I’m definitely on a roll here I’m setting an example aren’t I and and then if that wasn’t enough my good friend my best friend he ran away too and so now I have two people really close to me who have ran away and and and I also want to say they were also you know experiencing trouble in their homes as well but but nonetheless I had set some sort of example right and so when I ran away I dropped out of high school dropped out of high school when I was 15 years old and I ended up not having a place to stay I didn’t know anyone I had been sheltered so I hadn’t had an experience of using public transportation I didn’t know where to get a job if they were going to give a job to a 15 year old kid I didn’t know how to live so I lived like this this is the room that I stayed in I lived in an abandoned house for a year and a half how did I get by I so drugs so drugs that’s how I got by and the opportunity here different because the institution that shaped that helped to shape my life at this point was the education system and it thrown me out and it said hey look you know here’s here’s this uh you know here’s this kid that has this pellet gun and I had an experience there and this was following the Columbine shooting if anyone remembers that and so you can imagine the tension that kind of was in the air around this issue so they acted hard right and rightfully so but that institution shaped my life and a lot of people might say look at this experience and say you know this this institution you know really created a lot of havoc for Brandon but actually for me it was an opportunity see my best friend became my support system he and I lived in this abandoned house he and I worked odd jobs together and that best friend became my partner he became my support system he became in fact my boyfriend and so for me it was this opportunity to look back and say wow I the opportunity that I have with this person to grow and to be a part of this person’s life is something amazing and happened by accident and it’s definitely the case that I didn’t want it to happen that way but it happened so because there’s nothing else really to do at this point I want to talk to you first about about what changed during that time and what changed during that time for me is I never forget it it was a it was a fall day and I was selling drugs on the corner and the person that walked up to me someone that I knew and that person was my aunt the woman’s my cousin his mother so the own on the other side of the cell is my aunt who’s asking me for drugs and I and I I didn’t think about this at the time but there wasn’t a space for her to learn how to be anything other than what she was so for her she was in and out of jail she struggled with substance abuse with using crack and instead of a place where she could be rehabilitated right because this is actually what what we need we need places of rehabilitation we don’t need places of enslavement or places in incarceration we need you to become a more contributing citizen of our society this is what I thought so really that changed my life forever I

said you know what I can’t do this anymore I literally cannot do this anymore so following 2003 I joined the Army as a satellite engineer this is really where I learned of another institution and this institution was an institution of definitely hyper masculinity it was definitely an institution where I felt like I needed to be in the place in the right place at the right time or else right it’s kind of your experience in the military and so I left home I shipped off to Germany which was my first duty station and I still remember the first duty station I was there I was really afraid I mean III had to be at a 19 year old kid and I’m in Germany and the reason they didn’t tell me that the reason the first thing I thought was wow I’m going I’m going to Germany I’m gonna be able to live in another country this is fantastic how many people get to do this but you know one of the things they didn’t disclose to you at first is the people that go to Germany or overseas at first are usually the first people to ship out to go into war because right you know you’re you’re you’re you’re the first people you’re outside it’s very easy for you to ship off and go somewhere else and so though I was really excited to be in Germany that excitement didn’t last very long because about six months later I was being shipped to Kuwait so that we could convoy to to Iraq this was right after 2003 during the war and I remember getting into the plane to go out to take off to Kuwait getting off the plane and I’m thinking to myself as I’m getting off the plane Wow you know the the heat from this engine is just like it’s it’s like unbearable I was like I gotta do something about that and I’m like walking and I’m walking and I’m walking and I’m like you know that’s not the heat from the engine of the plane it’s that hot here and so I realized at that point I had another enemy I hadn’t really thought about and that was the heat and so I want I want to briefly talk about I laugh about that experience but that experience also changed my life that was a way that an institution shaped my life I know I never want to visit places in the Middle East that are as hot as Kuwait but another thing I know while I was getting on a plane I received a phone call and the phone call was from a friend of mine back home back in Oklahoma and he was he was kind of he’s kind of upset and he was this level of frustration in his voice and he said it’s Brandon you know I I just want to talk to you and I thought okay well you know I’m about to board this plane and this is not really a good time to have a chitchat is this something really pressing it’s like yeah I’m just calling to tell you Brandon I’m really sorry that you know your partner it was killed you know he was killed he was killed by police in Oklahoma and and he said he was killed and when he said he was killed I knew that he he meant he never he never said a name he never talked to me about what happened I just remember my knees buckling that’s it I don’t mean I don’t remember anything beyond that I literally at that point member people helping me up it was a devastating experience for me I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like that in my life and it was really because he was he was like the out you know my grandparents at that time you know I’d still you know I took a gun to school and they get kicked me out you know they’re not gonna talk to me that often so I didn’t have a lot of experience chatting with my with my family he was really you know kind of the it was a tether to my outside world beyond Germany and that had shattered and that really broke me and I stand here and saying that now probably because I can look back on it but but like he was a person really that I was vulnerable with and I know we talk very often about this hot word and this push-button word about vulnerability but for me I felt that here it is a place where I had been vulnerable with the person that I loved and I cared about and I offered myself to institutions like education systems

like the military system but these institutions for some reason didn’t keep my partner safe of course this is not the thing I’m thinking about at the moment but it’s definitely something we I thought about I thought Here I am I’m serving overseas I literally have a weapon in my hand and I’m susceptible myself to great danger my job was to go out and to build a satellite in a remote access unit me and two other guys or girl and what would happen is that one of those people would be on duty and the other two would be putting up a satellite in the middle of nowhere the desert that that I want you I want really that to sink in if you just go to the country somewhere and I mean like the country outside in the country and and did that it would be it would be tough do that in the desert in a foreign country and talk about vulnerability subjecting yourself to this level of vulnerability that is unconscionable sometimes it’s hot like I say at about 140 degrees but it’s really cold when it jumps down to 80 degrees and it’s been 140 150 degrees outside so fast forward I got out of the military I talked about my experience and in an effort to go and visit my partner’s grave and be at his funeral my first life supervisor told my commanding officer and my commanding officer said Brandon Anderson surrender your weapon and expect a dishonorable discharge by the end of the week and so an institution that I had been in for five years really had shifted and changed my life forever at that moment and for that being the case what really happened for me is I thought wow okay well I don’t I don’t really want that to happen I’d like to continue serving but I’m not really sure if I want to be in an institution that doesn’t value me the way that I think it should value me and so I didn’t fight that but I did fight the Honorable I wanted I thought I’d serve my country honorably so I ended up fighting that charge and helped six others do the same thing and we successfully secured an honorable discharge for me and six other soldiers and I submit to you my time at Bellevue college is just a way for me to enter into another institution right Here I am I’m I’m I’m I’m accepting what I’ve given I’m accepting what I’ve been given and I’m saying look all right I’m gonna make with what I have I’m gonna do with what I have I’m gonna try to do what I wanted to do before right and during the time really what I had learned was Wow well a lot of the times that I’m hearing right now is people are like it around this time are being shot and killed by police as well it’s so funny it’s so funny that that the reason Tamir rice who was a 12 year old kid who was shot less than 12 less than two seconds it took the officer less than two seconds to fire his weapon on a twelve-year-old kid with what a BB gun and I stopped to think about that and I thought wow 10 years ago I had a BB gun and I took it into a school with other kids not at a park like Tamir I really had to ask myself are we getting better or is this becoming more of a problem and so ironic is that it’s remarkable how the people we seek to help are really the people that teach us the most about our lives the most about ourselves about love and about vulnerability twelve-year-old kid was vulnerable in the park by himself and so I want to end with this I want I want us to think about vulnerability not in the sense of it being the core of shame and unworthiness I want us to think of it as being the birthplace joy of creativity but also that oftentimes when people especially communities of color engage

with institutions that when they are vulnerable oftentimes it’s incredibly it’s incredibly difficult because they are reward not with the same sorts of experiences as we all do and so for me vulnerability in my life is difficult to capture my vulnerability was a liability in anything my life it was a liability to me for a reason I had a partner who’d been killed I had mother who struggled with drugs I also had been thrown out of the military so for me imagine it imagine that and imagine not having an experience that that you want it when you were vulnerable and then the rest of your life you’re not necessarily thinking about how to be vulnerable frankly you’re thinking about how can I go through life not being vulnerable and still get what I want but the problem is is that in order to build meaningful and intimate relationships vulnerability is the one thing we need so how is it then in a world where vulnerability is what we need the one thing that which is a liability for multiple communities throughout this country throughout this world so I want us to think about institutions not as necessarily being oppressive in the sense that they don’t allow us to get the job we want they don’t allow us to continue education no social upward mobility is important but I also want us to think about how institutions are compressing at the same time in the sense that they are pervasive that they disallow and preclude one another from contributing successfully to society it’s concrete if you think about it and what’s funny is that we all know Tupac Shakur and he talks a lot about this I had known and at that time but Tupac often said if we knew the struggle of the roles that rolls above the concrete that grew from the concrete wouldn’t it be asking about how did its petals become damaged and in all of that we’d be thinking about wow look at its reach to the Sun look how this Rose has grew from concrete that is what I want you to think about the next time you see someone wanting to be vulnerable don’t think about the damaged petals don’t think about the time it took it to grow think about what it grew from thank you