HOME OF THE FREE
I mentioned in my last post that I already have the rest of the year planned out in terms of posts but this was definitely no what I planned on posting today. Life is all about surprises and being able to adjust - which is the beauty of writing my ideas down.
Education and Privilege; these two words are so vague in the sense that they could both stem off into various blog posts in themselves. My mother and I were watching the Disney movie 'Queen of Katwe' for the first time despite it's premier in theaters a year ago. If you haven't seen it - I highly recommend you do!
As the daughter of two immigrant parents and being the first in my extended family both born in the United States and to graduate college - watching this was very emotionally moving. I will say, I am a very emotional person; when I started bawling my eyes out at the end I was not surprised. I have always been so grateful for the fact that I have a supportive and uplifting family that encouraged me staying in school. But watching this movie, I realized it's not the support group that I have taken for granted all these years but my ability to attend a four year institution or even a high school that invested in my learning. Even my time as a growing girl in Washington D.C., I can say that a sustainable education is just as hard to find here in the United States. At the time, I thought I went to a great school that was doing all they could, but looking back on the experience I know so much more could have been done to ensure we were learning as much as we could.
Two years ago, I was blessed enough to spend my spring break volunteering with a Chicago, Illinois charter school. The program I went with, Alternative Breaks is comprised of globally conscious citizens looking to transform communities for good. The objective of the trip was to discuss urban education and combat some of those challenges.
This was the first time I was taken out of my comfort zone and fully dedicate my energy and time to service. All of the students we worked with were placed into a lottery system to attend this charter school. For many of those students, their parents were hopeful they would have a brighter path toward higher education. Many of these kids are taking two hour-long commutes to and from school. As the group and I noticed though, not even attending a seemingly prestigious school is enough to ensure those goals. Most of the classes had upwards of 35-40 students in it with one teacher trying to address everyone's needs. Although I was a bit bummed I was waking up earlier than I was on campus during my spring break, I was so thankful I had a chance to interact with some of these kids that need some extra motivation to stay in school.
Before the trip, I felt out of place because everyone else was either an elementary education or sociology major. Having an economics background, I thought my ability to serve was confined to spaces in which I was "well versed"; like discussing socioeconomic equity for example. Finally being in Chicago though, I realized as long as I have an opinion on a topic - I will learn what I need to learn to serve the best way I can. Serving in the hopes of improving issues like educational attainment doesn't have to occur in extremely impoverished places or third world countries. A lot of communities here in our backyards could always use a hand. I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and learn how to be an active (and local) citizen.
After watching the movie, my mother shared her experiences during her youth in Mozambique without a formal high school and college education. There's a disgusting misconception that African and other brown kids are lazy, stupid and not worth investing in (we can talk about colorism and colonialism another day). The basis of our opinions stem from comparison; we believe we are intelligent and hard-working because we compare our grades, efforts, and accomplishments to each other. Because we are conditioned to believe that Africans all live in huts, navigate via zebra, and never bathe -- the Western culture we're accustomed to is inherently "better". I'm sure my African and brown babes can agree that some of the hardest working people are those in their home countries. With different responsibilities, standards of living, and resources these will obviously not be analogous to ours.
I'm not saying this only because she's my mom, but she's one of the smartest people I know. It's unfortunate she didn't have the same resources and opportunities to get the education she was deserving of. To all my first generation Americans, college graduates, and role-models; don't take for granted your opportunities. When you feel like not going to class; think about the times you stayed in to watch your siblings because your parents were working to make ends meet. When you don't think you're qualified, think about the obstacles you overcame to make it to where you are. Yes, we joke that our diplomas are expensive pieces of paper but they're so worth it.