Colin Powell School
Max Garcia started college thinking he would become a lawyer, but he found his passion in using the performing arts to educate his Washington Heights and Bronx communities about their history and the issues affecting their lives. Garcia was a member of the inaugural cohort of the Colin Powell School’s Racial Justice Fellows. He also won an acting award from the Theatre Department, served as president of the Dominican Students Association, and served on the Black Students Council, all while working as a research assistant. Garcia encourages students to be patient with themselves, search for their passions, and push themselves to open up and connect with people they meet in college. “Being surrounded by so many intelligent students of color in a school with a history of activism is a really affirming experience,” Garcia says, reflecting on his time at City College.
Let’s start with a little about your background. Where are you from?
I was born in Washington Heights to Dominican immigrants. My ancestry on my father’s side is a little murky because of the history of violence and censorship on the island, so we’ll get back to that after I find a way to exactly confirm my paternal grandparents’ ethnicity. I identify as an Afro-Latin man, and I’ve lived in the Bronx my entire life, growing up around all the distinct cultures found in the borough.
Tell us about your path to City College. What brought you here?
I went to school at the High School for Environmental Science prior to arriving at City College. The summer prior to entering City College, I won a moot court competition for high school students at New York Law School, after which I was awarded an internship with the Safe Passage Project where I worked closely with lawyers who were representing undocumented minors free of charge. I worked mainly as a translator for clients who didn’t speak English and translating some documents when necessary. It was an experience that definitely helped shape me early on and made me think about going to college to become a lawyer.
Honestly, I knew that I didn’t want to go away for school, and my family didn’t have the money for me to go to a huge private institution. Some of these schools were charging more in tuition for a semester than my family makes in a whole year, and I knew I didn’t want to put that economic burden of debt on myself and my family. So when I was voicing these concerns to my college advisor, she immediately recommended City College to me, stating that I could both get an amazing education from the institution while also being able to graduate debt free. As soon as she told me that, I was sold.
What motivated you to choose political science as your major?
My purpose for getting into political science as a major was so I could better understand why the world around me is the way it is, in terms of policy. Growing up Uptown, in communal places such as barbershops, parks, and even churches, I would always hear the older folk talking about issues that plagued our community: “the schools are underfunded,” or “the rent is going up, and we’re getting pushed out,” or “the police are too aggressive”. Everybody agreed that these were real problems, but nobody could agree on why they were happening. I chose to study political science so I would be able to know where all these things were originating, so I could in turn explain it to my community so we could make informed decisions on how to address these issues.
How has your career unfolded, and how has the Colin Powell School helped you along the way?
My career is still unfolding, I’d say. You see, I hope to make a career out of directing, screenwriting, acting, as well as a couple other creative ventures. Now I know you’re probably thinking, what does that have to do with political science? How does that tie in? Somewhere along the line, I figured out that I had a talent for acting and storytelling that could be married to my passion for Political Science and History. If I could drop what I’ve learned during my time at school into a script for example, I now have an opportunity to reach more members of my community at once in a show, as opposed to teaching lectures and reaching forty, maybe fifty people at a time. I’m currently very deep in the development of a show I’m directing, writing, and acting in called “Uptown” which basically breaks down how members of all the different groups of the African Diaspora interact in Uptown, New York City.
A major way City College has helped me in this aspect is that most of the actors cast in the show are current or former City College students I’ve met during my time here. City College has proven to be a great place for me to network with like-minded individuals who I probably never would have had the opportunity to meet outside of school. And lastly, building off of that, just the community and atmosphere of City College as a whole has definitely helped shape me into who I am today. Being surrounded by so many intelligent students of color in a school with a history of activism is a really affirming experience.
What memories or accomplishments from your time at the Colin Powell School would you like to share?
I was a member of the inaugural cohort of Racial Justice Fellows, which was a great experience for me because the workshops were super informative and I love to learn. The guidance provided by the fellowship leaders was amazing in terms of creating a safe space for students of color. Meanwhile, I was awarded the Bernie West Award for Excellence in Performance by the Theatre Department for my performance in the lead role in a production of “Anna in the Tropics”. And I’m currently the President of the Dominican Students Association, which has been a great experience for me getting to uplift Dominican culture on campus. It has truly been an honor. Also, I can’t let this moment pass without speaking about my time at the Dominican Studies Institute, where I started as a volunteer and now work as a staff member. The amount I’ve learned from everybody there is truly incredible. I often reflect on the fact that I’m practically getting paid to learn about my history and culture on a level that not many people have the opportunity to, and for that I’m duly thankful. Last but certainly not least, I also sit on the Black Student Council together with other leaders of Black clubs on campus. The Council truly does great work in terms of all our clubs giving each other mutual support trying to revitalize Black student life on campus again after the pandemic shutdown.
What advice do you have for current or future students?
To current or future City College students: it’s all right not to have everything figured out. When I got to City College, I thought I was going to be a lawyer. Three years later I have found my calling in a creative space. Be patient with yourself, give yourself the space and time to figure out where your passions lie. What are you passionate about? Don’t choose a career or major based on what someone in your life wants you to do, or what you think will make you the most money. Put all that aside for a moment and truly ask yourself the question: What makes you happy? What do you love to do? I promise you, once you give yourself that space everything’s going to open up, and you’re going to see things start to fall into place. Also, find your tribe — network, y’all. Actually talk to people when classes let out. Some of my closest collaborators and friends today I met simply by saying hi before or after class. Go to clubs, another great place to meet people. It’s a commuter school, you’re gonna find people from all over on campus with life experiences both very similar to and very different from yourself. Take advantage of your community, make friends, make connections, build your tribe, and I’ma say this again: be patient with yourself, find your passion, and y’all will be alright.