On my first day of 5th grade, I walked into KIPP and was greeted with the question, “When are you going to college?”. I had never heard that before. I knew what college was, of course, but no one in my family had ever gone — I didn’t think it was anywhere near my grasp. But there I was, a kid in a new school, ten years old, shaking hands with the principal and she’s telling me with confidence that not only am I going to go to college, but when I’m going to go and what it’s going to be like when I get there. She said it so matter-of-factly, almost as if it were non-negotiable. If I did the work, she made me believe, I was going to succeed. I did the work. Three years later, I got a full scholarship to attend Woodberry Forest, a boarding school in Virginia.
The boarding school was two and a half hours away from everything I knew. Two and a half hours away from my friends, my neighborhood, and my mom. It was a tough transition, but KIPP teachers helped along the way: they would call and check up on me, give me support, they would meet with my professors. But that’s not all they did for me. It was around that time that I lost my brother to gun violence. When that happened…how do I put this?…KIPP showed up. They brought my mom food, they came and sat in our house, they were there with us at the funeral. Remember, I was in boarding school at the time, I wasn’t even a student at KIPP anymore. But when all I wanted to do was give up, when I just wanted to yell, “I don’t want to do this anymore!” it was the KIPP teachers who drove those two and half hours to be my side. They were there for me then and they are there for me now. What KIPP teachers and counselors did for me, what they continue to do….that’s more than just teaching. That’s love.
I’ve seen the things education can do. I am an example of what education can do. After I graduated from Syracuse University, surrounded by so many of the people I love, I joined Teach For America. After my two years teaching in San Antonio, I returned home. I live in my old neighborhood. I see my mom every day. And I teach at KIPP DC. It is strange and surreal and humbling and beautiful to stand in front of my students every day and teach them. For them to allow me to teach them. This work is so important to me because I know what’s out there. I know what my students are up against. I know what my students face when they walk outside of this building at the end of every day.
That’s why I chose to come back home. KIPP changed my life, and I want to pay that forward. I want to be that change for my students. I want them to see that it’s possible to get out of this neighborhood — that if they work hard enough, if they study hard enough, they will have the opportunity to explore, to find their passion, and do whatever they want to do.