College in My Language

Henry Kopia Keculah Jr. is an American citizen of Liberian descent who came from humble beginnings. Henry is a graduated of the University of Texas at Austin. Upon graduating college, Henry started 4.0 GPA (Growth, Productivity and Accountability) LLC., which serves as an education consulting firm and resource for schools and private organizations. In addition, the company aims to help disadvantaged students get into college. The curriculum can be offered to individual students, school districts, colleges and nonprofit organizations. Students who collaborate with 4.0 GPA have great success once admitted into college. Students maintain an average grade point average of a 3.2 and higher once enrolled. The rapid success and nationwide expansion of 4.0 GPA has not gone unnoticed. Henry has received countless honors and recognition including being named one of the top 16 social entrepreneurs in the United States for 2018. 4.0 GPA is featured on www.nba.com.

 

Tell us a little about your cultural background.
Henry: Both of my parents immigrated to the United States from Liberia and the great thing about that is that it allowed me to be a first generation American. I was the first person with my last name to graduate from high school in America. That is something I cherish. I cherish the food, the heritage and history of Liberia. I have an opportunity of learning more about the civil war and how it impacted me and my siblings.
As a child of immigrant parents, how do you identify with Liberia?
Henry: I rep Liberia to the fullest. I look like Liberia like it’s my home. This year I ran for president for the Liberian Association for the city of Houston. When I was in college I wrote my thesis on Liberia. When I was applying to the University of Texas at Austin, I wrote about the civil war and about the journey of my brother and sisters having to walk to refugee camps. Those are some of the things that I identify with. It’s who I am. When you check my social media tags (IG and Twitter) you’ll see a Liberian flag because that’s what I am proud of. I am proud of reppin’ the tribe that my father is from, the Kpelle tribe. I think Oprah Winfrey also identifies being of that tribe too. I take a lot of pride in my culture. My graduation flyers had nothing but Liberian flags. When I was growing up I wanted to be the president of Liberia.
Have you ever felt you had to represent twice, for your Liberian culture and your American culture?
Henry: No, I look at it as one. When you say African American, understand that I am American, and I am African. I look at it as one. Liberia is my culture and that’s who I am. When my kids grow up they will know Liberia and know the history of Liberia. They will know that July 26th is the Independence Day of Liberia. I do not feel that I have to be two. Growing up, when you asked me what I wanted to eat, it was fufu and soup, cassava leaves.
Did you find it difficult navigating two cultures during your undergraduate career?
Henry: No, I never found it difficult. My roommates from college were Nigerian, Asian, Hispanic. There weren’t any difficulties. There were times when my mom made food and I warmed it up and people would be like, “man what’s that smell.” I learned to make sure to have air freshener because to me it smelled alright, but to everyone else it had a strong aroma and it was different.
As a college graduate, how has your Liberian culture impacted your decisions in the “real world”?
Henry: It showed me the importance of hard work. When you look at my mom working three jobs to provide for me I saw that at an early age hard work is important. It doesn’t matter where you start, it matters how you finish. Seeing my brother come to America, getting a GED, getting a job, getting his undergraduate, getting his masters, and now pursuing his PhD. It shows me that I can’t make excuses because they came from an environment where they walk three to four miles to get out of war zones. My culture made me stronger when I was in college because I knew I didn’t have room for error and that was something I learned right away. It impacted me to having a work ethic, to understand preparation, understand adversity, and perseverance. Those are the things my cultural identity impacted me with during my first year of college, throughout college, and my career.
What is one thing you wish you knew before going to college?
Henry: When I was going to college I wanted to major in government because I wanted to go into the legal field. Looking back, I should’ve majored in Marketing, or something more impactful to me as a professional. With marketing, I know I am going to need marketing, whether as a lawyer, I will need to market my law firm, as an entrepreneur I need to market my business. I neglected to do any internships while I was in college, I did internships in high school. Because I had to work and get the money, coming from a low-income background, I fell back on internships. I wish I could’ve understood the value of networking a little more.

 

How do you connect with your cultural influences in your everyday life?
Henry: I’ve never been to Liberia before, but I do eat food from there all the time. Fufu and soup are my favorite. Cassava leaves, and okra sauce are things I also enjoy and I eat them all of the time.

What are some healthy coping mechanisms you learned from your parents?
Henry: Probably just eat right, as healthy as possible. In the African community, we don’t really touch too much on mental health and strategies on how to cope. If you are stressed out, you relax and chill for a little bit.

How would you say your Liberian cultural background influences your methods of communication?
Henry: I’m very direct because I come from a household where my mom was very direct. If something doesn’t look good on you, she’s going to tell you directly. That has allowed me to be a more direct person, I do not beat around the bush. If there is a problem, I let the person know in a professional way. I also use my hands to talk and I speak loudly so people can hear me.

If you could speak to your parents and give them some advice from when you were in high school, what would you tell them?

Henry: First, I would tell them put me in Kaplan, Test Masters to help me prepare for the SAT exam so that I can get a high score, get national merit, and get a free ride for college. I would also tell them to put me in STEM camps so that I can know how to code and create my own website and writing courses so that I can improve my writing skills. Lastly, I would tell them to not let me focus so much on sports, but other things such as STEM and entrepreneurship.

What is one advice you would like to share with current high school students?
Henry: Make sure you know your GPA. If you are in 8th grade going into high school, find out the college you want to go to. Find out their requirements and put those requirements on your wall so that you are aware of where you want to be, how to get there, and there won’t be any surprises at the end of the day. Build relationships with Admissions Officers by reaching out to them via email. Make it your business for them to know you, put them on your own personal newsletter so that they can see what you are doing.

What is one advice you would like to share with current college students?
Henry: Apply to internships. You may be a Freshman in college but go to the job fairs so that you can know exactly what skills you need to have for your dream job. Keep track of the people that are getting the jobs that you want and see what they are doing. Also, go to office hours. I don’t care if you have a 90 average in a class, go to office hours. Get to know your professors, know what pushes them, what motivates them, and how you can help with researching. This will not only help build your resume, it will also help build connections.

What is one advice you would like to share with recent college graduates?

Henry: Use professional headshots on LinkedIn, have good quality business cards and branding. If you are applying to jobs put your social media on private. When you do get the job, do not add your co-workers on social media (Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat). You may have to call out one day, and then you have the person that follows you from work seeing your snaps, thinking you are not really sick. You may really have been sick, and your coworker sees you snapping, but you’re probably in the parking lot of Walgreens snapping. Not everyone is your friend. Set goals and keep your circle strong. Have people who have accomplished what you want to accomplish in your circle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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