By Julian Armand Cook

I was reared on the south side of Chicago by a devoted and powerful single mother who struggled daily to provide for my family. Though our finances were beyond tight, the value of a college education was consistently lifted as an integral part of one’s ethical and intellectual development. I was taught that education would free me, enable me, and provide me with transformative potential as a leader to help others in my community to take hold of their freedom. My grandparents were born sharecroppers in the Mississippi delta; my parents did not have a college education, thus when college application time came around I knew that I would be the first in my immediate family (and one of the few black young men in my community) to attend college.

While I received significant scholarship support to pursue my undergraduate education, my family’s money shortage meant that I would still need to take on loans to be able to afford the full cost of attendance.

I was faced with a excruciating dilemma: do I allow my lack of money to destroy my dreams of pursuing academic study and risk being entrapped by the cyclical realities of poverty and violence in my neighborhood or do I take the risk of student loan debt to help finance my dreams?

I chose the latter, and, thankfully, it all worked out for me.

Yet, I never imagined that choosing to free my mind through higher education would simultaneously mean binding my future under massive student loan debt. How tragic it is that so many students in this country must choose between gaining intellectual freedom through academic learning or being free from student loan debt. True freedom demands that we be a better society than this.