Thankful is an understatement to express the gratitude my family and I have for school choice scholarships. Six years ago, I was invited to share my story full of gratitude to over 2,000 people at the Renaissance Hotel in Cleveland, Ohio. There were people who met me for the first time yet believed in the impact I could make in my community, especially if given the right to a higher education.
Years later, I am beyond grateful for the education that I received. Since sharing my story with members of the school choice community, I have decided to take a step deeper into urban education to understand why school choice is necessary. My first step was my senior year Capstone Project. I volunteered and observed multiple schools within the urban Cleveland area. During my initial visit, I could hardly stand being seated in the classroom for 10 minutes with students who are there every day without being encouraged or taught the way that they should.
Observing the classes left me devastated at the language and lack of willingness that educators had with their students. I have always known that, unfortunately, there are some teachers present for only a paycheck. That day I saw and heard first-hand the lack of hope that many staff had in their students. These were students who are from the same neighborhood as me, students who are “at risk” and in single parent households, just as I was.
A staff member told me that her class of students would all be in jail before they turned 18 years old; I was 17 at the time. Utterly disgusted by my observations, I went back to my high school with a fiery passion and determination to break the cycle of below average for the students who aren’t privileged enough to receive a higher education like I was until school choice.
Through my research, I presented to a panel of over 10 educators who have dedicated their lives to transforming urban Cleveland. As a result, a mentoring program was created of high school students who also live in the same communities but have gained the tools to now pour into the younger generation. Soon after, I became a graduate from Saint Martin de Porres High School as a Howley Scholar and began a city-wide movement. The mentoring program did not sustain beyond a year without my presence. Thus, BeYOUtiful Cleveland was born for young girls in the city of Cleveland; the same year that I graduated high school, in 2015.
Since then, I have traveled to multiple schools. I began after-school programs in Northeast Ohio uplifting, encouraging, and building sisterhoods within school communities, at home, and in neighborhoods. The BeYOUtiful Movement has reached as far as to Ghana, Africa via social media with women from all over creating videos explaining “what makes them beautiful.” As of 2016, BeYOUtiful Cleveland began its own after-school program in “at risk” communities.
I am now finishing up the spring semester of my junior year at John Carroll University as a Marketing and Communications major. I plan on continuing my education at Cleveland State University as I venture on to graduate school in the fall of 2019. I will embark on this journey through the Urban Studies program at Cleveland State University. My goal is to receive more tools to continue the transformation of my community and help others who are not as fortunate to receive a higher education.
Last March, I had the pleasure of traveling to Washington D.C., to represent my mother, my community, and other students who deserve higher education opportunities. Myself and other college students from school choice programs from multiple states had the opportunity to share our stories with the Senators from our home states. The purpose of us sharing our stories was to advocate for a program that changed our lives and promote access to school choice for many more students from all over the country.
The most significant memory that I have is a discussion that I had with Congresswoman, Marcia Fudge’s staffer, Sarah. She explained to me that she was a product of public education. I emphasized the need to redefine what education means to society and why all students deserve the opportunities that we both shared. While there are many people who are in favor of students receiving an education like I did, unfortunately there are many who believe that school choice is robbing public education. But I can proudly say that I am a bright face of school choice and my life is living proof as a success story.
Because of school choice, I attend one of the most prestigious colleges in the state of Ohio. I began working in corporate America at the age of 14 and I am one of the youngest consultants for the city of Cleveland. More students should be afforded the opportunity to transform their communities. Thank you school choice for saying “yes” when my environmental circumstances told me “no.” I hope to continue to be a voice for all students, including those in public schools and living in poverty just as I did; to let their voices of need be heard. We are all stars and deserve access to shine.