Lester’s Story

Since middle school I knew I wanted to work on or with cars. I love 30s-90s muscle cars and hot rods and spent a lot of time at car shows and drag races with my Dad growing up. I still think about this all the time and still hope to have my own custom car shop someday. Right now I’m working on my ‘72 Dodge Dart Swinger that I drove a bit in high school and now I am slowly but surely restoring it.

In high school all I wanted to do was get out of Seattle and experience something different and new. This was the time to research colleges and places to live. I knew I wanted to be in sunshine, it didn’t matter if it was LA, Texas, Atlanta or Hawaii. I just knew i was done with the rain. Having my mind made up this helped me narrow down the schools I wanted to apply to. I was in a program in high school that helped me tremendously with applying to colleges, writing supplemental essays and taking care of all the financial cost of applications and mail. 

At the end of my junior year I had the opportunity to attend a week long trip with a program called Bowdoin Bound. Bowdoin Bound provides an access and experience for inner city students from Baltimore, MD to live, tour and interview with Bowdoin College and other selective colleges in New England for a week. Growing up in South Seattle I never really knew too much about Maine or even how to properly pronounce Bowdoin. All I heard was that the winters were terrible. 

In the end, the three colleges I was accepted to were Bowdoin, Morehouse, and Washington State University. I really wanted to go to Morehouse to be at an HBCU (historically black college). I wanted to be around more people that looked like me. But in the end, it came down to financial aid. I was a first generation low income student and my parents could not afford college. I had to go with the best option for me and that was Bowdoin because they offered me a Need Based Scholarship and Financial Aid that I could not refuse. 

Being 3000 miles away from home was a struggle. When I was at school I wanted to be home. When I was home I wanted to be at school. I always felt I was missing out on things at home and when I visited home it felt weird like I was a visitor or guest. Throughout the years in school I just tried to remind myself to enjoy the moment and experience the best I could. Making friends was pretty easy. Everyone was friendly and helpful because we were all in an unfamiliar place. I also made sure to get involved with extracurriculars the AfAm Society (African American Society), NASA (Native American Student Association), so I was definitely keeping busy and making new friends. Academics were challenging for me. Although I did enjoy the small class sizes, smallest begin 6 and largest begin 60, I felt unprepared. The courses were rigorous with a lot of reading and memorization, then sometimes quizzes every class. I was hanging on by a thread. I also was sometimes the only black student in class so if any black context came up I was always the one who was asked for an explanation or felt that all are eyes were on me, which was truly uncomfortable. 

After college I felt like the world owed me a job, so much struggle to get that degree! I was disappointed that I didnt receive the job I wanted. Six months after graduation, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I’ve learned how to live with this trauma, although it is always with me. 

I like having more than one job at a time to keep me on my toes, which is good because I’ve had a lot of jobs since college on my way to being a full time artist. I’ve definitely had to hustle for what I needed and wanted. I cofounded an art collective called Fun(D)-A-MenTal which is a group of black and brown men and women who create art, talk art and curate art shows. We have done several shows in the Central District and South Seattle to inspire the community and gain support from the community that some of the members grew up in. 

I spent several years teaching art and have now transitioned to being a full time artist creating paintings for my clients!

My degree is in Visual Arts so it has certainly helped me not only in my career as an artist but also in teaching art at a middle school in the neighborhood I grew up in. 

As an artist, you have to fail forward (meaning its ok to fail, the quicker you fail the faster you learn so you can become successful), do your best, work hard, ask questions, stay hungry, dont settle, firm hand shake, eye contact, smile, speak assertively and lastly NETWORK let everyone know what your passion is.  This world is very tough to navigate and do what you want to do. Take care of yourself and if someone offers you to do something take it, even if you do not like. Gain the experience, it will come in handy later in life.

What do you wish you had known when you were a high school senior?

I wish I had known about more grants and scholarships. There are so many out there. Apply to them all if you can! 

What is your favorite thing about being an adult?

My favorite thing about being adult is the freedom, you can do whatever you want without your parents getting on you. But it does come at a cost. Rent, bills, food, car, insurance it can be very expensive but remember to hustle and it will not be too much of a problem.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Painting is my passion, love and therapy. What I love most is the reaction I get from people when they see what I have created especially if it is for them.

Read Lester’s 10 Tips for Transitioning to College Successfully!

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