[Community Corner💌] Seeing Rejection as Redirection: How I Started Black Voices on the Hill🎙

By Daniel James II

All of us are here on the Hill because the institution in some way accepted us. 

I’ll never forget the day personally. I was in my school library, and it was around 6:59 pm. I logged onto the portal, covered half of the phone up with my hand, slid my hand down, where it read: Dear Daniel...

My hand was shaking in trepidation. 

But of course, the next line read, “CONGRATULATIONS!”. 

However, my journey through Cornell has made me look back over my life and realize that my journey has not only been punctuated by acceptances, but also by REJECTION. 

Some of the most dreaded e-mails to open have been ones whose greeting began with… “Hello Daniel, I’m sorry to write to tell you that...'' or “After a long process of review, your application was not...” or even “Your application was very inspiring, BUT...”. Or even arguably the most dreaded ones, “It is ok if we just be friends?” 

Why is it that those emails or texts can be so disconcerting? Why is it that we view moments of news like that as a rejection of our entire future, an opportunity, or a life that we think we deserve? I’ll tell you the background of my story, why moments like that have always been very difficult for me, and how embracing rejection can allow you to create your own opportunities in a creative field - something not talked about enough at Cornell.

👋 First, An Introduction To My Journey With Rejection

For starters, my name is Daniel James II. My mother nicknamed me Quest at a very early age, because she thought it had promise. So this little boy born full promise was reared in a small rural black working class town, where despite the challenges of the city economically, educationally, my community expected more of me. If I had a dollar for every time an older lady or gentleman called me “Future Mr. President” or “little Mr. Obama” I would be able to pay Cornell’s tuition three times over. 

Those high expectations were not necessarily a hindrance, but a launching pad to something greater, and it fueled in me a desire to not let anyone down. You see, I often have felt that I could not afford to be “Rejected” or to “Fail”. Every time I shoot my shot, I can’t miss, because when I miss, my community or my family misses. 

Therein lies the mistake. You see, this path with little to no failure or rejection doesn’t exist, even for the Obama’s, the Winfrey’s, and whoever else we deem as folks that “made it.” Your path to Cornell was not linear, so don’t think life at Cornell, or life after you leave the Hill will be either. It’s a journey full of twists and turns that have the opportunity to teach you life’s most important lessons. 

Graphic by Renee, CC Designer

And so because of that, I want you to leave today knowing three things: A rejection of one presentation of yourself in an application or interview, or any given juncture is not a reflection of who you really are. Thinking that a missed opportunity is a rejection of your town, your family, your village, and your community is a weight that you should not always carry on your 18, 19, or 20 year-old shoulders. 

Just because you get rejected, don’t stop applying yourself. You don’t miss out on your destiny when you apply and it doesn’t work it out. You miss destiny by living a life full of shoulda, woulda, or could haves.

🎙 Creating My Own Opportunities: Black Voices on the Hill

I turned a time of turmoil in the last year into the launch of my very first podcast. 

Black Voices on the Hill was one of the first times in my life that I spearheaded something, with autonomy, and had the chance to create opportunities for others. As long as I was depending on an acceptance to this, or acceptance from that person or program, I would have continued to miss out on honing in on my own creativity.

It’s possible that I would have never attempted such an autonomous endeavor because of fear. Fear of what? The unknown, or maybe whether or not anybody wanted to hear what I had to say. 

But it was after I witnessed the slow ravaging of my community by COVID, and the police murdering George Floyd & Breonna Taylor that I no longer cared about who would or wouldn’t accept my voice. I needed an outlet to voice my opinions, and I knew I could find a small group of folks that would engage with me in this dialogue concerning the volatile state of black lives. 

With the aid and support of my producers from the student run station WVB 93.5 FM, I was able to create “Black Voices on the Hill” in September. When you listen to my show, you don’t just get the nitty-gritty of activism, but you get a weekly celebration of my guests and the contributions they are making in athletics, academic, investment, hair, clothing, and so much more. 

Listen to Black Voices on the Hill here!

We talk about the “heavy” topics - including trauma - while also realizing and appreciating the excellence at Cornell. After all, my show’s vision is to envision a campus that is “aware of the black excellence in Cornell’s Collegetown”, and we are seeing that dream come to fruition. 

This journey, however, has not been an easy one. While my heart is in it, sometimes my battery does run low. 

Aside from hosting & filming responsibilities, I also create all promotional, marketing, and branding materials for my show -- Canva.com has become my best friend. This includes making flyers, making Instagram reels, managing my social media, alongside hosting. 

While I am the son of a journalist and media expert in many ways, I had little to no experience with building a brand aside from my own. Sometimes when I think I’m ahead on interviews, a fresh idea will pop to my head that could take my show to the next level and appeal to a wider audience. 

When I envisioned my own podcast or radio show, I can truly say that I never thought it would encompass my daily life, and yet I would truly have it no other way. I do not see “Black Voices on the Hill” as work, but as a once in a lifetime opportunity. Simply by overcoming the fear of the unknown, this platform is inspiring audiences and lives I have yet to meet face to face. 

And so what should YOU do now? My advice...Go sit to the side, and take every place you see yourself going, write it down, make a vision board even. Then take every rejection you’ve received thus far, frame them, and save them not as memoriam of dead things, but turn them into awards for yourself along your journey. Because who knows, with will power and belief in the power that is in you, you could easily take the next “I’m sorry to inform you...” and turn it into the biggest break of your life.

Daniel James II

Daniel, from South Carolina, is a junior in the ILR school. While passionate about criminal justice & public policy, he took a gigantic leap, and made his first foray into podcasting through his show, Black Voices on the Hill, amplifying black Cornellian voices. Will he end up on Capitol Hill or CNN? Anything is possible. 

Did this blog post supercharge your creativity? ⚡ 

We hope so. And we can’t wait to see what magic you make next. ✨

Take this email as the reason you’ve been searching for to dive into your next creative endeavor, and know that you’ve got a creative community backing you at every step of the way. 🙌

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