Elijah Vilfort is a Software Engineer and Tester at Tata Consultancy Services in Charlotte, N.C. Hailing all the way from Haiti, Elijah wouldn't let cultural barriers deter him from garnering success. Elijah proves that no dream is an obstacle as long as you stay determined and stay true to yourself. Elijah's purposefulness, optimism, strong-willed charisma is why he is our #MCM.
1. What's your story? What makes you unique?
I’ve been sort of a nomad my whole life. I was born and raised in Haiti where I learned not to take anything for granted. Don’t get me wrong, I had everything I needed, but to this day it’s safe to say that there is a significant gap of resources between Haiti and the States. I lived in a couple of houses there, I remember my grandma’s house always smelling like Haitian patties and fried griot. At home, we had a nice garden in the backyard, which had everything from mangoes, limes, papayas, carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, plantains and even avocados. Inside often smelled like my dad’s YSL Kouros cologne and I remember how it was always spotless until we got our first rottweiler.
My nomadic lifestyle didn’t start until my parents wanted me to pursue the “American Dream”. The transition was a little rough: back when I was in high school, being Haitian wasn't glorified in hip-hop lyrics, speaking Creole or having an accent wasn’t “cool”, and all Haitians were known for at the time was the 2010 earthquake. The school system in Haiti is a lot more challenging, I learned French, English, some Spanish, and math - it was a lot more advanced. Needless to say, secondary school was a breeze for me. In Florida, I was more worried about the smoldering heat, and in Georgia I was subconsciously trying to lose my accent and fit in. Then came college, UGA is where I really grew up and started finding pieces of myself. Athens was, and still is, a beautiful campus providing abounding opportunity and inciting curiosity. I felt free. I finally got rid of the braces, and realized that I was great at breaking everything so I decided to become an Engineer. Then I also realized who I really cliqued with and made life long friends. Graduation was a basically beautiful breakup from school and an immediate transition to adulthood. I went from worrying about deadlines, term projects, and finals to worrying about work deadlines, furniture and bills, which leads me to Charlotte North Carolina, where just a single view of our skyline makes it all worth it.
I guess what makes me unique is that I don’t care much about what makes me unique. Jk, Truth is somewhere between high school and college, I hit the switch and stopped being afraid of facing new challenges and exploring the unknown. More often than not, I have a different perspective of things and tend to be as optimistic as possible. Each chapter in your life occurs in a different environment while presenting its own set of challenges and adapting to each situation while being yourself is key.
2. What motivates you?
My family is my greatest source of inspiration. They built my faith and continue to do so by always reminding me that we have a greater purpose. As a kid, they managed to convince me that just because of my last name I will achieve nothing but success in life. They taught me how to be self-sufficient, yet humble. Getting together with any member of my family is my mental reset, a reminder of where I came from and how far I can get. I could easily point out specific people like my mom, my dad or my uncle, but my family as a whole is a support system that will never fail and I know that no matter what I go through, a life lesson is only one phone call away- after jokes and probing questions... And now that I get to be a role model and a source of inspiration for the next generation, it’s even more of a motivation to stay the course.
3. Who is a hero of yours?
That’s undoubtedly one of the hardest questions on here for me because my answer probably changes every month... if not every day...but as of this moment, I want to say it’s Malcolm X. Not just the extremist Malcolm you learn about in high school U.S. History, but the outspoken media magnet Malcolm X . After his pilgrimage to Mecca, he started talking to MLK about finding a better solution by finding action and prevention instead of the usual reaction to social injustice.
Fact is that nowadays a dead gorilla creates more of an outrage than a dead man. We treat every single police brutality incident and Black on Black crime like most people would treat a homeless man: You feel for him but you simply don’t know how to respond so most times you just don’t. Sometimes you help as little as you can or a much as is “socially acceptable” by giving out change, food or just conversation. Sometimes, you think he is homeless because he or she is obviously in the wrong, but unfortunately most of the time it’s nothing personal so you decide to be selfish. Life goes on and you have better things to worry about.
In law and philosophy, one asks “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes” (Who will guard the guardians themselves), and I refuse to believe that an unafraid forthright leader like Malcolm X would have allowed this vicious cycle to continue. Three to six months after a senseless murder, the dust settles and media coverage goes towards the next best story, a criminal comes back from paid leave, the victim’s family gets a nice hush-hush settlement, and you die as yet another hashtag.
4. Give us a road map of your career. How did you get to where you are today?
I’ve always been intrigued with Information Technology, but never really knew what I wanted to do until my sophomore year of college. I majored in Computer Engineering and thoroughly enjoyed the business and engineering side of the industry among other things. I remember having so many questions, because I wanted to make sure I started my career off right. I bugged my adviser, Kelly Saussy, for at least a semester and after she perfectly answered all my questions, and after speaking to my parents, and going over offer letters, I decided to move to Charlotte and work for Tata. I recently hit the one year mark in my first “real world” job so I’d say my career just started and I have a long way to go. The road map of my career is still being drawn.
Side note: Moving to a new state where you don’t know a single soul is a lot more enriching than scary.
5. What's your future plan? Your goals?
I want to own a share of a company and eventually my own, preferably an IT firm. Within 5 years, I would love to invest and earn stocks. I want to travel more, explore different continents, backpack through cities, and chase the summer around the world. Most importantly, I would love to give back in any way I can to my family, my schools, and my country. I don’t have a set plan yet in order to secure that lifestyle, but I have faith and I will definitely be ready when the opportunity presents itself.
6. If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?
Life is like this unfair roller coaster ride. You can’t really tell how high or low you get until that exact moment and you have absolutely no clue when the ride ends so you might as well enjoy it. Whatever you do, do not live for a 9 to 5. Don’t lose your passion and never settle for what feels comfortable.
7. What is something you feel strongly about (a cause, belief, etc.)?
One of the simplest, yet most powerful piece of advice I’ve received is to always be honest with yourself. Though all aspects in life always be honest with yourself, because it’s the only way you can be honest with others. At the end of the day laws will change, rules will be bent, and public opinion will always seem easier to support; but once you push aside your morals and beliefs you automatically lose part of yourself. Be aware of your surroundings, have an acute consciousness, and project good vibes. Be yourself.
8. What's one of the coolest things you've ever done?
After graduating college, I traveled to Haiti to surprise my grandparents. I hadn’t seen them in over seven years, and the moment when I realized how happy and proud they were for me was one of the few times I’ve ever felt so accomplished. A lot obviously changed, but everything smelled the same at the house, I was home. I went home and relived my childhood. I ate authentic food (tassot, griot, conch and steamed fish), I drove through the best traffic in the world, met new additions to the family, and I even got to explore the Abaka Bay Resort with pops. It was a powerful experience for me, because throughout the whole trip I was reminiscing and realized that I was actually living the dream that my parents had set up for me.
If you would like to reach out to Elijah Vilfort for mentoring/networking opportunities, you can reach him HERE.