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  • Christian Madison

Rose From the Concrete

My name is Christian Madison, I’m a sophomore on the football team studying Biological Sciences in CALS on the pre-med track. Many of my classmates ask me how I’m able to balance the intense demands of such a rigorous academic program and the demands of being a Division 1 football player at an elite institution like Cornell. I’m often lost for words in my answer because there’s a motivation that’s just been kind of wired into me over the years because I know what the alternative could be for me—I’d rather go through all the stress and struggles that come with my academic and athletic obligations than deal with the consequences of being on a corner in my neighborhood back home.

I’m West Philadelphia born and raised, just like the Fresh Prince. People like me usually do not end up at places like Cornell. Growing up in inner-city Philadelphia, I was exposed to a lot of things that could have completely changed my life trajectory. For instance, I may not be alive to tell my story today if I hadn’t fallen asleep one day when my friends went to the basketball courts on a summer night in 2016. Three of my friends were shot that night walking home from the courts and unfortunately one of them ended up passing away. I surely would have been walking home with them that night had I not fallen asleep earlier in the day. At a young age, I learned about the unfortunate reality of the environment I was being raised in and how it truly is a matter of life and death in many instances. I’ve witnessed the effects that poverty, street violence, and discrimination have on a community. I’m reminded of it every time I go back home from Ithaca.

Whenever people ask me what Cornell is like, I always say that being at Cornell almost feels like being in an alternative universe. At Cornell I can let my guard down, be open to people, and smile more. Back home it’s a completely different world—I have no choice but to be on point at all times and navigate in such a way that allows me to survive. It’s sad to think about, but whenever I’m back home there truly is a big worry of whether I’ll make it back alive whenever I step out of the house. I’ve lost multiple childhood friends to gun violence and their stories are a big part of what keeps me going each day. Unfortunately, they did not have a chance to make it out of our neighborhood and go on to do great things. So, I feel like I carry them with me as I move along my path towards greatness.

I think about them whenever I face any adversity, and I’ve faced a lot of adversity at Cornell. I’m currently undergoing rehab for a shoulder injury I suffered last season that required me to undergo surgery in the offseason, and I’ve had some rough patches academically that made me question whether I should continue with my current academic path and career aspirations. The balance between academics and athletics has been especially draining for me this semester because I’ve been rehabbing my shoulder on top of everything else. However, no matter how tough things get, I always keep going because I know the people watching over me from above are looking down proud of me for everything I’m doing. I owe it to them to keep going: they give me the extra ounce I need when I feel like I have nothing left.

Something that is very important to me is being a role model for the youth in my community back home. I strive to show them that they do not have to be a negative product of their environment. All they hear about is negativity. Whenever they turn on the news, all they hear about are homicides, drug busts, and other things that are detrimental to the community. When you grow up in an environment like that, constantly hearing about negativity, it starts to narrow your perception of the world: you start to believe that there is no better in the world and that you are destined to be stuck in that environment. I hope to show people in the community where I’m from and similar communities across the country that they too can forge a better path for themselves and defy the odds.


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