Over 150 years since the abolition of slavery, African Americans still lack equal access to education and other quality of life markers. However, a slow increase in African American students pursuing and obtaining higher education demonstrates the progress of African American academic success. Although still not at an equitable level, this progress, and the voices of success are often muted by the majoritarian narrative of African American student failure. This research focuses on African American student success and examines the specific socio-cultural characteristics and processes that shape the ways in which African American students develop their own counter-narratives to persist and gain access to higher education. This study utilizes narrative inquiry in the form of interviews, artifacts collection and student-drawn identity maps to understand the factors that influence the development of counter-narratives. The primary research questions included: What narratives did African American students tell themselves to help them persist in school, attain a high school diploma and pursue higher education? How did they develop their narratives? How did their narratives influence their educational experiences? Five African American students who attended an elite public university in the southwest United States participated in four to five interviews ranging from six to ten hours in total. Through the analysis of their stories, the importance of culture and context were clear. Specifically their social support systems including their parents, siblings, teachers and mentors, significantly influenced their identity development and human agency. The findings also point to a critical path forward: if society commits to supporting African American student success, then shine a light on stories of persistence and potential rather than shortcomings and failures.