LIfe of Ellery Ellis by Annika Knutson

Black Male Elder Recognition Project
Ellery Ellis

    Ellery Ellis grew up and still lives in Fresno, California. He has three older brothers, along with a twin brother, a younger sister, and a younger brother. Ellery and his twin, Emery, were born at Fresno Valley Medical Center, which was located at the time near Cedar and Kings Canyon. He went to McCarthy elementary school, located near Sierra and First Street in his early years. At the time, his family lived near Blackstone and Herndon, which is an area known as Pinedale. All three of his older brothers, along with Ellery and Emery were enrolled at McCarthy, and were part of the tiny African American population at the school.
    When he was in third grade, his family moved to the Westside of Fresno. They lived near Fig and Jensen. (Fig later became known as Martin Luther King Jr.) He and his brothers were bussed over to McCarthy to finish the grade they were currently enrolled in, since the family moved in the middle of the school year. In fourth grade, he went to Carver Elementary School. While in sixth grade at Carver, he was given his first major leadership opportunity to make a speech at his school. This was a big opportunity for Ellery, which gave him confidence and opened up the doors for later opportunities to be a leader.
    While in Middle School, Ellery was bussed over to Scandinavian Middle School. This was during a time when Fresno was trying to integrate it’s schools, and many kids were bussed from one part of town over to another during their middle school or early high school years. For kids like Ellery, he was bussed over to Scandinavian during both years of middle school, but for his white counterparts which made the opposite trip over to Edison High School, they only attended their Freshman year there. This was a point of debate for many people in the community, since it was unfair that the African American kids had to spend twice as long going to schools that were not close to their homes of their communities, while their white counterparts were only required to go to school outside their community for one. During eighth grade, his family also moved further into the Westside, which made his bus trip even longer.
    Although many people did not like integration or did not see the benefit of it, Ellery was able to communicate with and make friends with other kids that did not have a similar background as him. This became a huge benefit later in life, when he would be required to communicate with many different people from other backgrounds, and even deal with people who would discriminate against him.
    Ellery attended Edison High School, where he became interested in architecture. He was inspired by Craig, his oldest brother, who was doing drafting work for construction. Ellery also knew in high school that he would have to take hard math classes to be ready for college and to reach his goal of becoming an architect. He enrolled in classes that would help him reach his goal, and did not give up.
     By the time he was enrolled in high school, Ellery had already realized the importance of going to college, and how valuable hard work was. He grew up helping his father, who worked as a janitor, and he was up early and working hard with his dad before going to school when he was 15-16 years old. His mother, who worked for the IRS, as well as his father, made sure to stress to him the importance of going to college and having a higher education to make his life better. When he was out of school for the summer, Ellery worked a construction job. This job required a professional interview, so Ellery prepared by wearing a suit and tie and being as professional as he could be. He was one of three candidates selected for the summer construction work. The construction work was a great experience for Ellery, he was able to make good money, and learned to pay for his own bills with that money. Although it was hard labor, Ellery stuck with it and even gave pep talks to his fellow workers who were debating quitting since the work was so hard.
    In his junior year of high school, Ellery was introduced to the MESA program. He was approached during that year by the teacher who was the advisor for the club on campus to be the President during his senior year. Ellery agreed to do so, but was not overly enthusiastic. He was also introduced to the field of Engineering at this time by the same teacher, who pointed out that engineers and architects did many of the same things.
    During his senior year, Ellery applied to UC Berkeley and Cal Poly. He was turned down by Berkeley, and was accepted to Cal Poly. He was disappointed because he was accepted to Cal Poly’s campus in Pomona, and at the time he thought that Pomona was in the middle of nothing and decided not to go.
    During the summer after high school, he was also sent to Minnesota by a member of his church who paid for his trip to a church camp there. Ellery met many people there from all over the U.S. and Canada, and learned that despite the differences in race, background, and experience between the people there, they all were dealing with some of the same issues of what to do with the rest of their lives.
    He decided to go to Fresno State during that summer and enrolled in the Summer Bridge program there after being talked into it. He applied for Financial Aid, and had to go thorough walk through registration since he had applied late. This combination caused Ellery to be a semester behind in the Engineering program. He was not able to register for any of the core classes he needed, or for anything that would count towards his degree that first semester. He still had to be enrolled in at least three classes though to get financial aid. He also found out that year that he would be at Fresno State for at least six and a half years, since the Engineering degree was usually stretched to six years instead of four.
    During the Summer Bridge and his total of seven years of college, Ellery overcame Financial Aid issues, studied hard and was able to tackle a hard curriculum, as well as dealt with issues of discrimination from some of his professors and peers. In the Summer Bridge program, Ellery was one of three African American students. The other two ended up switching to other majors. In his Engineering classes, there were around eight Hispanic students, but half of them dropped by the time graduation was near. He overcame prejudice with one of his professors, who graded him harder since he “felt he didn’t know the material.” This experience taught Ellery that his grades would not always be earned, and that there were some people that would not grade him fairly no matter what.
    Despite these hardships, Ellery still worked hard in school, as well in his work study program. He worked for CalTrans for three months as part of a survey crew during summer at the age of nineteen. He later worked for the Department of Water Resources while in school, and was able to move out of his parent’s house at the age of twenty in the spring of 1988.
    Ellery was active in many campus clubs, including a fraternity, the National Society of Black Engineers, which he was the President of, and the African Student Union, which he was the Vice President of. He a member of the African Student Union at Fresno State when it went through a change from being called the Black Student Union. This was fueled by students who joined the Nation of Islam and wanted to be more connected with not only Black students, but also students who came from Africa. The name change also helped emphasize the importance of their African roots.
    Ellery was also active in the student government while at Fresno State, and was part of a period of change within the student government as well. At the time, the student government was made up of mostly white, Republican, Conservative students. There was a new party formed, made up of mostly minority students, who ended up overthrowing the current student government. The overthrown group made sure that they changed laws before leaving so the new group would be stripped of power. This prompted sit ins in the Administration building in attempt to have the unfair laws changed. Although the sit ins were non violent, police showed up and threatened to arrest any students that did not leave. Ellery decided at that point to leave the protest, since he knew that a record was not a good thing to have as a junior in college that would be applying for jobs soon. The benefit of the sit in was that light was brought to the situation and the laws were changed to be more fair to the new group in charge of student government.
    Ellery graduated form Fresno State in 1993, with a degree in Engineering. This was the best satisfaction he had felt, since he had worked so hard and gone through so much to obtain his degree. Before graduating, he was required to complete a Senior Project. At the time, he was still working for the Department of Water Resources as a Sanitary Engineer. His job was to make sure that drinking water was safe, and that water companies followed the rules of the regulatory agency. This required him to travel to rural areas of Fresno and Kern county, and interact with people who had very little experience with African Americans. He learned that although some people were prejudiced and would never change their minds about him, others were just unsure of how to interact with someone who came from a different background as them.
    This experience with prejudiced and unsure people helped him deal with his professor who was in charge of his Senior Project. He was suspicious of his professor at the time because he kept giving him different things to incorporate into his Senior Project, and also refused to pass his project after multiple attempts. This frustrated Ellery, since his job was only secure as long as he passed. He talked to his supervisor, who was a fair person and told Ellery that he did not hire him because of Affirmative Action, but because he answered the appropriate questions correctly and was well qualified for the job. His supervisor called the professor, who passed Ellery’s project the next day.
    Ellery continued to work at the Department of Water Resources for two more years. During this time he met Tsenia, who later became his wife. He also decided during this time to take a job at CalTrans, and has worked for them during the past eleven years. He became a licensed engineer, even though the exam was tough and he had to take the exam multiple times to pass.
    In the past eleven years, Ellery and his wife have had two children. They have a fifteen year old son, and a nine year old daughter. He strives to maintain a close relationship with both of his children and to support them in all their endeavors. He has also instilled a hard work ethic in both of them, and has taught them that there are some people in the world who are prejudiced and will not treat them fairly. His son has experienced prejudice on many instances due to his deep voice, which has been intimidating to teachers in the past. He has also taught his children that they can not be the class clown, that they should not earn any negative labels, and that some people will not hesitate to blame them first based on the color of their skin. Ellery has also taught his children to question the unfair treatment they receive, and to always talk to their parents about it.
    Ellery is currently on the MESA advisory board, as well as President of Toastmasters. He wants to stress to all African American students who are considering a degree in engineering to go for it and not be intimidated by the difficulty of the classes. He says that although he was blessed with opportunity, no student should be steered away from what they want to do, and that they should never be intimidated by the difficulty of their life or studies.


    Ellery does not conform to any of the black male stereotypes typically seen through the media or that are emphasized in our culture. He does not have any criminal record, and has been careful to not get into trouble with the law. This can be seen in his actions while participating in a peaceful sit in at Fresno State. Although Ellery knew that what he was doing was perfectly legal and fine, he was still not willing to risk being arrested or having a criminal record that would follow him during the rest of his life.
    He is obviously not a rapper, professional athlete, drug addict, or hustler. He has worked hard to achieve his goals and did not give up, even when the he had difficulties in his schooling or life in general. He has worked past professors being prejudiced against him and has overcome difficulties with people who are unsure of how to act around him or communicate with him. This can only be achieved by being patient with people and attempting to understand what their background is.
    Many black males are seen as being lazy and not hard workers. Ellery has worked hard his entire life, starting at the young age of fifteen while helping his father, who was a janitor. Ellery was not paid in money for helping his dad, and understood that his pay was food and a roof over his head. He later worked in construction, which is very hard physical labor, and is not for anyone who is lazy. He did not quit even though the job was not easy, and even encouraged others to keep working and not quit their jobs.
    Ellery also worked hard in school to get good grades to achieve an engineering degree. Engineering in itself is not a degree that attracts many African American people, and Ellery’s hard work shows that not only are black males not lazy, but can achieve great things. His hard work in school is inspiring and will show many other young black males that they can do anything they put their minds to, and should not be intimidated by hard classes or by entering a field of study where they are not always welcome or have few other black males in their classes.
    Ellery also defies the stereotype of black males being bad fathers. Ellery is very involved in his children’s lives, and cares deeply about both of his children. He has worked hard to ensure that they will be successful in whatever they decide to do and has prepared them for the hardships they will experience due to the prejudice of other people. He has also shown through his relationship with his wife that the stereotype of black males not staying with one woman is a false one. They have been married many years and have been through hard times together, and he has continued to provide support for her and their two children.
    Overall, Ellery not only disproves every black male stereotype, but also serves as an inspiring individual. Everyone, regardless of gender or race, can learn something from Ellery’s life and can appreciate how hard he has worked. Although he counts himself as lucky to have the opportunities he has had, it is obvious that he has earned every one of those opportunities. Some by hard work, and others through being a good person.

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