A man of honor - long version
C.C. Carter uses his own past to motivate students
On the wall of C.C. Carter’s office at Chico State hangs John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success. Fifteen blocks, 15 characteristics the famous UCLA basketball coach believes are the key to attaining one’s goals-traits such as enthusiasm, poise, confidence, industriousness
For Carter, the words read like a personality profile.
The 50-year-old Cater works as the associate director for leadership programs in the student activities office, on the second floor of Bell Memorial Union. He is also a representative to the Associated Students Multicultural Affairs Council, and he serves as an adviser for Men of Honor, a campus group that brings together blacks from the community and the campus.
Carter’s qualities make him a great mentor for students. His engaging demeanor makes him approachable, but he won’t hesitate to tell it like it is. Carter looks out for every student he works with, but those with a negative attitude who are looking to be coddled may want to look in a different direction.
Adversity is something Carter got used to at a very young age, and he enjoys relating his experiences with the students he encounters.
“My passion has always been finding an openness to be in others’ lives and worlds,” he says.
Acquiring the blocks for his pyramid of success has been a lifelong expedition for Carter. He was born in 1957 in San Francisco, a mixed-race child living in a world full of discrimination. His mother, a Japanese war bride, and his African-American father divorced when Carter was a young child. Carter never knew much about his father, a man who disappeared from his life when the marriage fell apart.
The young Carter grew up with his two sisters and his mother. The cultural gap between him and his mother made for some trying times.
“She spoke very little English. I spoke very little Japanese,” he recalls.
Being bicultural, Carter experienced childhood from a different perspective from many of those around him. He learned early on to judge people based on how they treat you. Trying to find that cultural balance as a child has shaped how Carter views people today.
“You look for people who are good people and you find those people,” he says, sternly. “I look for positive people or else I don’t spend any time with them.”
In 1970, Carter was a typical teenage boy. That was until his mother suffered a massive heart attack. At age 42, she was dead. Carter was suddenly a parentless 13-year-old.
The aftershocks of his mother’s death would be felt for years, and for Carter, it meant the loss of more family ties. Thrown into foster care soon after his mother’s passing, Carter was ripped away from his two sisters, the only family he had remaining. From age 13 to 15, Carter pinballed between three foster homes in Seaside and San Francisco. With his sisters living in Marin, he had no choice but to become self-reliant.
When the time came, Carter had no doubt he wanted to go to college. The questions were how and where. His means of getting a college education were aided by his qualification for Education Opportunity Programs (EOP), designed to help low-income undergraduate students. But for Carter, the problem of where to go still loomed.
At the suggestion of a man he calls his “guardian brother,” Carter chose Chico State. The transition figured to be rough for a man who spent most of his life in San Francisco, with its busy streets, bright lights and towering attractions. But Carter packed up his belongings and was ready to embark on yet another new challenge.
As he and his guardian brother drove north, Carter couldn’t believe his eyes. All he could see for miles were rolling hills. No trees. No houses. No people. Carter was in shock.
“Where in the hell am I at?” he remembers thinking. “I thought I was in a cowboy movie.”
But Carter’s initial negative reaction wore off when he reached the college town. Within the first hour of arriving, as he walked downtown, he was approached by some young collegiate females. They pointed the lost Carter toward campus. True to Chico State’s reputation, the young ladies also invited him to a party, which he attended.
“We couldn’t believe people were so friendly,” Carter says.
Within the first week at Chico, Carter had met more people than he had in his entire life. He fell in love with the laid-back community. He started working toward a career in social work or psychology, hoping to teach at-risk youth independent living skills. He wanted to help students whose upbringings mirrored his own.
Through it all, Carter’s family ties held strong. His sisters, whom he had been separated from, followed him to Chico and became Chico State alumnae. At age 21, Carter also contacted his father, a man he had never known.
The situation was fascinating, Carter remembers. His father was living in a fantasy world. He believed Carter’s mother was still alive and had no idea she had died eight years before. Throughout his life, Carter was under the impression that he had no other relatives. While meeting with his father, he learned that he had a number of aunts, uncles and cousins, as well as a 94-year-old grandmother on his father’s side.
Back in Chico, Carter’s hard work paid off, as he graduated and was hired by the university. He originally worked as a career development specialist. He also held jobs in the Athletic Department and Student Activities Office. It was not exactly what he had envisioned, but he was satisfied.
Tray Robinson was just a young college student when he first met Carter. Robinson, an African-American who grew up in Compton, was in need of a mentor. He, like many other college students, was drawn to Carter’s commanding voice and inspirational attitude.
“He’s just such a motivator and educator, and he likes to empower people,” Robinson says. “He goes out of his way to help anybody.”
Robinson and Carter soon became good friends. Robinson calls Carter intelligent, honest, generous, athletic and competitive. The two often battle it out over dominoes and cards, and sometimes the duels take place in the gym.
Robinson vividly recalls a time about 10 years ago. The two men were in the weight room, talking trash and playfully challenging each other. Robinson would put up a weight. Carter would match it. Other people in the gym were rallying behind them. The two went back and forth until the weight reached 300 pounds. Perhaps conveniently, Robinson claims to forget who won.
But with a sly grin, he gives away the result.
” ‘Cause he’s my elder, I gotta let him win,” he says.
Robinson, 35, is now the diversity coordinator at Chico State. His jobs include building relationships with the community throughout the North State. He has also become a colleague of his one-time mentor. He and Carter usually meet about once a week and work together on many projects for the university and city.
Robinson has always been impressed by Carter’s ability to relate to a wide variety of populations.
“He has a way of connecting to students, faculty and staff across the board,” Robinson says.
Perhaps Carter’s greatest strides have been made with the black community in Chico. Since becoming the associate director for leadership programs, Carter has strived to provide students with chances to showcase their leadership abilities. One way he has done this has been with the Men of Honor organization.
Formed four years ago, Men of Honor was developed to join black men from the community with those at Chico State to offer support, guidance and mentorship. Carter, who serves as an adviser, has been with the program for the duration of its existence and has watched its steady progression into one of the campus’ most respected groups.
The organization was created with Phi Beta Sigma. Once it became recognized by the university, it began to receive funding to put on various workshops to help the black community. The workshops typically involved men from the community talking to students about what it means to be black on a predominantly white campus. They discussed their dreams and life experiences with the young students.
“The elders got as much from the students as the students got from the elders,” Carter says. “It’s a reciprocal process.”
Men of Honor now has a strong organizational structure and is driven by the students. This is the mold Carter has always had in mind for the group-putting students in leadership positions. The close-knit group will gather for activities ranging from video-game tournaments and theater shows to representing the university at city functions.
The ultimate goal of Men of Honor is to develop the ability to form family and friend relationships, Carter says. He believes the organization exemplifies what the university wants and is making a difference throughout Chico.
“I really like where the men are,” Carter says. “They continue to amaze me, inspire me.”
Carter, meanwhile, continues to work hard. He knows no other way. His job titles include coordinator, director, adviser, representative and master motivator. His work has him on and off campus, participating in seminars and conferences and working with Chico’s youth.
Carter took on every obstacle he encountered with the same drive he tries to instill in the students he works with. Being a minority; being fatherless; being parentless; losing his siblings; three foster homes. Carter endured more than many students can imagine. He enjoys sharing his experiences and helping students barrel through problems of their own.
Carter also overcame his initial reservations about Chico. The town that first made him want to turn around and head south has become his first and only permanent home.
“Chico has a special community," he says. "I wouldn’t trade what I have in Chico for anything in the world."