Chanté Chambers is a managing director of recruitment at Teach For America, responsible for ensuring that the organization meets ambitious recruitment goals at historically black colleges and universities.
I had just spent two hours with my mentee at the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum in Washington, D.C. De’Angela, soon to be a college senior, and I were exploring the history of African Americans, the inexplicable forms of injustice and inequity that we’ve historically worked to overcome, and the sense of urgency we felt around improving educational opportunities for communities of color. To have such an emotion-filled discussion in such a historical place was almost surreal—and then a friend sent me the announcement of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.
The picture of President Obama surrounded by African American community leaders and advocates, collectively determining to change the course of education, or lack thereof, for black and brown faces in this country, left me speechless. It also led me to reflect on my dissatisfaction with our education system.
I attended a solid middle school and a sub-par high school, where I was devastated to see fellow students who could barely read. So many of my peers were brilliant and innovative when it came to life and survival, but were also functionally illiterate. It blew my mind to see so many dropping out or facing limited life opportunities because of an inadequate education.
My high school experience heavily influenced my decision to join Teach For America’s teaching corps, and it’s the primary reason that I will forever work on behalf of students of color in low-income, under-resourced communities. I can apply names and faces to the statistics and wonder what would have happened had our babies experienced different expectations or more rigorous learning environments. How would their stories have changed?
All of this uncertainty, anger, frustration, and commitment to ignite change gives me a personal connection to this new White House initiative. I’m filled with hope that as a country, we are moving in the direction to devote the necessary energy, efforts, and resources to education. So many people in power are united under the common belief that all students can learn, deserve to learn, and will learn if we all do our part. This initiative serves as a call to action and a promise of change. We can change the alarming drop-out rates of students of color, the disheartening number of students who are vastly behind academically and ill-prepared to enter the workforce, and the cycle of poverty that perpetuates as a result of limited life opportunities, while bringing people from all backgrounds and walks of life together to find solutions.
As De’Angela and I shared our hopes and histories, I envisioned this as a historic day: the day we started to make good on our nation’s unfulfilled promise from 236 years ago—that we all are created equal, each with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is undeniable that education is the great equalizer, and as a nation we must provide all of our children with access to resources that will yield them a lifetime of opportunities. I’m convinced that this initiative is a step in that direction.
Chanté Chambers is a managing director of recruitment at Teach For America, responsible for ensuring that the organization meets ambitious recruitment goals at historically black colleges and universities. She earned a B.A. in English from Spelman College and taught eighth grade in Camden, N.J., as a 2005 corps member.