Determination. It carried me through my entire academic career and on to college. I graduated from a liberal arts school located in the Hudson Valley of upstate New York. I barricaded myself into the 600+ acres of Bard College, determined to graduate. I changed my major twice. I spent many hours contemplating what time would be the best time to leave Kline, our cafeteria, after any given meal. I spent my winter and summer breaks working on or off campus, staying close to school provided me with a sense of security. At college, I found my safe place. The place which allowed me to be me - without explanation, without regret, without apology. My siblings came to visit me over the course of my 4 years there and I wanted them to see not only the beauty of my campus but also the hard work they needed to put in to get to college and succeed!
I was raised by my grandparents who told me,"College is not an option, it's a necessity." I went: happily, desperately, willingly. My grandparents were raised in the segregated south. "Colored" and "White" only water fountains were the norm. Segregated classrooms boasted the reflections of black children thirsty for an education, committed to achieving what others tried to keep away from them. My grandparents pushed forward, acquiring their education and going on to college, they wanted more for themselves.
My grandmother walked miles to school, even in the snow, a proud stride guiding her way towards graduation. My grandfather, taking on the responsibilities of his family, finished high school and then setting his sights on higher education, received his bachelors degree. They wanted more for us, their children and grandchildren. They demanded more than we often did of ourselves, especially, more than my mother wanted of herself.
I am the product of a teenage pregnancy. My mother, at the age of eighteen, gave birth to a premature baby - weighing in at 1lb and 10oz. The doctors thought I would die and not survive past the night of my birth. I hit milestone after milestone and grew into a woman more determined not to let anyone or anything hold her back. I went on to finish my bachelors and receive my master's degree all while working full-time and being a full-time mother.
As I reflect on the very different journeys I took from that of my mother's, I can't help but ask, why? Why didn't she want a better future for herself? We know that without an education the prospects for a bright future are dimmed. We know that every 26 seconds a child decides to drop out of high school, like my mother. We know that individuals who are incarcerated are often also uneducated and did not receive any higher education, like my mother. We know that once someone is convicted of a crime, specifically of a felony offense, they've also lost the ability to acquire financial aid. No education. No right to financial aid. Means, most often, these individuals revert to what they know best and do what they must to survive. As we parent our son, my wife and I instill in him the lessons we were raised with and pray he walks away with the knowledge he needs to know better and do better.
We have already begun discussing college with him and he's 7 years old. True, he complains about the pains of third grade and squeals like a pig being slaughtered on a Saturday afternoon when he would rather be playing outside with his friends than doing the homework we give him. But we give him homework because his teacher does not give any on the weekend. We silently cry along with him as the pain of getting him to actually do the homework is as painful for us as it is for him. But we push forward.
We push him forward, fueled by the realities of our history, we know that for him college is a necessity.