The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Photo credit: Nick Shockey / nshockey.express@gmail.com
A letter from the editor
February 6, 2024

High RISE

Photo by || Diamond Pipkins || [email protected]

“Big Mike!” “Big Mike!” students in the RISE center keep yelling out. If this is your first time stepping into the RISE program at City College, your introduction to one of its more prominent figures is immediate.

Big Mike, whose real name is Michael W. Benjamin II, has been assisting students for three-and-one-half years as a student personnel assistant in the RISE program, whose acronym stands for Respect, Integrity, Self-determination and Education and whose services are open to all, but emphasizes helping first-generation college students and minorities.

Benjamin, 37, spends most of his hours helping others with homework and studying, but most significantly, he is a friend to many of the same students he is tutoring and mentoring. True to his ways, Benjamin is pursuing a degree in counseling so he can do what he loves: “continue to serve the people and help students achieve their goals.”

Standing an impressive 6-feet, 2-inches, Benjamin’s presence is hard to ignore.

Although, his frame might be reason to spot him in a crowd, his personality makes him hard to forget.

“You couldn’t ask for a better person; just overall a good guy that is always looking to help out in any possible way, shape or form, and goes above and beyond to do so,” says Salvador Cortes, 23, a fellow colleague at RISE.

Benjamin was born to community activists Michael and Dorothy Benjamin. His father owned and operated the only African American theater company in Northern California, while also teaching theater arts at both City College and Sacramento State. And his mother, Benjamin says, was a founder of both the now- defunct Black Culture Day at the California State Fair and the local annual Martin Luther King Jr. march.

Raised in Oak Park, one of Sacramento’s most notorious neighborhoods, Benjamin graduated from Sacramento High School in 1991. He attended both City College and Cosumnes River College. After two years at Los Rios institutions, his desire for what he calls a “more cultural” education led him to apply to Howard University, the historically black university in Washington, D.C.

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City College RISE assistant Mike Benjamin helps a student with her homework at the RISE office on campus. Born and raised in Sacramento, Benjamin attended Howard University before returning to City College and is currently continuing his education to become a counselor. Photo by || Diamond Pipkins || [email protected]

While studying history at Howard, Benjamin began developing a curriculum that would combine his two loves in life: hip-hop and education.

“My life mission became how can I combine the two?” Benjamin says.

In his search for the answer he found a like-minded friend, Solomon Commisgon, and together they toured the East Coast, lecturing at various college campuses on the benefits of using hip-hop in education.

According to Benjamin, some of the campuses he addressed were Virginia Tech and the University of Maryland at College Park, to name a few. Through this experience, he says, he has found what he calls his “calling in life.” Francisco Solorio, 27, a RISE product, recent graduate of UC Berkeley, and beneficiary of some of Benjamin’s mentoring, describes him as “somebody who is always looking to help and better you.”

When he is not mentoring at RISE, some of Benjamin’s hobbies include listening to good music, cooking, reading and writing. In fact, he says he just finished writing a short film about black inventors and is currently working on a docudrama about the Oak Park chapter of the Black Panthers party, the Oak Park Four. He also stays busy as a member of a Sacramento-based hip-hop educational group Low End Theory Collaborative or LETC.

Valerie Moore, 29, the head student personnel assistant at RISE, describes Benjamin as a “jack of all trades.”

Yet another name for the larger than life man they have dubbed Big Mike.

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