My journey to education has been rooted in this idea that education can be the vehicle out of poverty and into economic parity. I started this journey myself 28 years ago when I was born. My mother was receiving federal assistance to care for my two brothers and I alone after being divorced. My mother worked tirelessly, often times working three jobs to “make ends meet.” While my mother was never the parent who volunteered at the school to help coordinate the bake sales or school plays, she did send me with a pan of cookies she stayed up until God knows when to make and attended every school play with a video camera in hand to support my classmates and I. My mother firmly believed that education could get me and my brothers out of poverty.
My mother when driving would turn around at a red light and declare who we were going to be when we grew up. I was always her lawyer! This is probably because I was the most “mouthy.” I believed the dream my mother declared over my life and so did she. So much so, that my mother taught me how to read using Hooked on Phonics at the age of 2. My mom lied about our address to get me into better schools, allowed me to take two-hour bus rides to and from school in order to attend the magnet school out of my district and paid for me to have a cell phone at a very young age because of the distance I traveled outside of my neighborhood. See, my neighborhood schools in Compton, California were not the best options for me and my mom did everything to ensure that I had the best.
My mom allowed me to accelerate through school and was my supporter and advocate along my journey of being deemed a “problem child who may need to stay back a grade” in my early elementary years to an “advanced calculus student” at age 15 which was my senior year of high school. I went on to attend and graduate from Howard University in three years with a 3.73-grade point average at the age 19 and went on to graduate from law school at the age of 22. I am now 6 and a half years removed from law school and I can comfortably declare that I am no longer living in poverty.
I do not believe that I am special, although I am the “exception amongst Black boys and men to the rule.” I believe that the rules and systems do not protect, push, support and develop minority students with similar backgrounds as me to ensure that they too become the exception, which ultimately would shift the paradigm of education and the advancement of our communities. I and several others are examples of what the paradigm shift would like because I know that my children, the generation directly behind me, will be afforded the best education without having to result to all the methods and efforts of my mother, many of whom were deemed illegal by antiquated and insensitive policies. If we can increase this fact then we can truly make headway towards realizing our creed of being the land of free.
I am now working to create opportunities and policies that will provide masses of impoverished children the chance to step into middle class or beyond. My journey to now is a result of my own educational reflection. I know that my early learning and literacy is what allowed me to thrive. I believe that we must focus on providing our students with the best learning and literacy techniques to ensure their ability to persist through grade school and college toward a great career that positively impacts our community. The Louisiana Children’s Research Center for Development and Learning (CDL) is allowing me the opportunity to focus my energies and efforts on literacy and early learning opportunities for all youth in Louisiana. So, I am proud to announce that I am CDL’s Director of Policy and Advocacy. As Director of Policy and Advocacy, I will be leading our community organizing and partnership based work as well as our policy initiatives on literacy and learning statewide and nationally.