I have felt an immense guilt in our organization.
I have seen poverty, but it was never my constant condition. Growing up on the west side of Fresno, there was always an exit. My grandparents owned a progressive and thriving African-American Newspaper company; this kept our family afloat. My grandpa fought daily (sometimes literally) to keep our city accountable to the economic freedoms our nation proclaimed. I admired his bold fight for justice that put food on the table, but struggled to figure out what role I would play.
In 2009 when I graduated from the University of California—Merced, I had already made the decision to join Teach For America. I remember stepping away from the podium after singing the National Anthem, fingers shaking, as Michelle Obama took the stage to deliver the keynote. I don’t remember everything she said, but I will never forget the passionate rumble in her voice as she spoke about “making change” “through national efforts like Teach For America.” Her words affirmed that I was doing the right thing. That day, my values, dreams and passions all felt aligned.
Fast-forward 2 years. I became uncomfortable. The unsettled feeling of not being able to relate was back. This became very clear to me during my time teaching in Mississippi.
I taught in a school district that was 98% black. I was eager to be a role model for change and open doors of opportunity for all of my Visual Arts students. After tirelessly raising $18,000 in months, 6 of my students and I embarked on a trip to Paris, France. When I asked whether or not they were enjoying their time in Paris, one of my girls responded, “You don’t care and you’ve ignored us since we got here.”
Photo by MarkGGN via WikiCommons