I was born in Kingston, Jamaica and came to the U.S. as a teenager. That journey took me from a strict Catholic private school to an inner city high school in Miami. The true definition of culture shock!
I recall the pivotal first encounter at my American school when I was asked to define my race. No one had ever asked me that before. I was baffled. But even with that, the most significant shift was the feeling that for the first time I was alone in my academic journey.
In Jamaica, my entire community wanted to know how I was doing in school. What was expected of me was clearly brought to life not only in the classroom, but in my neighborhood, in the media, and in everyday encounters on the street as I made my way home wearing my uniform with pride. My mother never had to shoulder the message of achievement alone. There was an ever-present village fortifying her.
Here, my mother worked literally around the clock to provide for us. We lived in a not-so-great neighborhood, and attended not-so-great schools. But we owned our own home and a car that we shared to get everyone to school and work in shifts. My parent’s dedication had produced four smart, fairly trustworthy kids who never got tempted by the wrong crowd, or took advantage of being home alone.
Many things have changed since then. But I remember that feeling of community from my childhood. I remember feeling lost in the sea of opportunity in my new home. Opportunity was a foreign language no one took the time to translate. It was clearly every man for himself. I had to figure it out. And I did.
Fast forward 25+ years. Two degrees and two kids later, and I still live in this very diverse part of the country where the immigration of cultures like my own has left a vibrant mark. The issue of high-quality education has matured and so has the solutions. But there are still many families and schools out there figuring it out, immigrant and non. Many still struggle to navigate the opportunities.
I don’t have all the answers, but what I do know is it has always taken a village…a collective. We are all responsible.
Great schools, “true schools,” are created by the power of the people who own it. We are all accountable for the quality of our educational system, in every school. From the school board members and administrators, to the corporations, small business owners, government leaders, and yes, families and neighbors. None are exempt.
Good schools and quality education affects us all in almost every way you can possibly imagine. Our economy, home values, way of life, job market, crime rate, health…it’s all interconnected.