I was always a determined kid growing up, especially when I set my mind to a particular task or path. As a young black man in Southeast Texas, I was a first hand witness to many of the education inequities that plagued our system. My mother and father, an elementary school teacher and engineer respectively, both understood the need for my brother and I to have a quality education. They ensured that we were exposed at a very young age to as many opportunities for growth and learning as they were able to provide to us. Their goal for us was simple – to have a path to social and economic mobility. Even feeling as well-equipped as I did, I still experienced a shocking revelation when it came time to make my choice for what my future would look like.
“I was first hand witness to many of the education inequities that plagued our system.”
I was sure of my path – I wanted to study pre-med, but still had some doubt if it was the right path for me. I remember going to my counselor at the time, explaining what I wanted and just simply being rubber stamped. No discussion of alternative options, number of years I would be in school, amount of student debt I would accumulate over that time, or what to do if in fact, I changed my mind, which I ultimately did. For someone so sure of their pathway in life, I was left with a profound feeling of confusion over what to do next.
“I still experienced a shocking revelation when it came time to make my choice for what my future would look like.”
As I sit here many years later, as the new CEO of Education Opens Doors, I reflect on the millions of students each year who go through similar experiences such as I did, who have no idea of what path they should take, no resources to assist them, and who are doomed to repeat a cycle of economic instability that has plagued our underserved communities, particularly communities of color for decades. Recent data shows that the achievement gap in historically marginalized communities in the U.S. remains as large as it was over 50 years ago.
“For someone so sure of their pathway in life, I was left with a profound feeling of confusion over what to do next.”
Upon his first day in office, President Biden signed Executive Order 13985, which had a mandate of improving diversity, equity and inclusion in the federal workforce. The intention of the order was to ensure that the federal government, the nation’s largest employer, implemented policies and practices that make certain the existence of equity in hiring, education and development of the government’s workforce. Also in 2021, the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund, part of the American Rescue Plan Act, pumped an additional $122 billion in funding to struggling school systems across the country. In 2022, the U.S. Department of Education released their Equity Plan in response to the Executive Order, outlining its efforts to support equity in education through increasing access to colleges and universities, improving completion rates, expanding digital literacy, creating on-ramps from postsecondary education to high-quality jobs and careers, and ensuring that postsecondary education efforts create pathways to emerging industries and sectors at every level of education and training.
“As the new CEO of Education Opens Doors, I reflect on the millions of students each year who go through similar experiences such as I did.”
While all these efforts are worthwhile, we still see school districts struggling to spend these monies, on top of two previous rounds of ESSER funds that were provided in 2020 and 2021. Legislators in states across the country tie up funding in bureaucratic posturing, while at a local level, school boards are in internal politically polarizing wars, all while our students still struggle to find their voice and their paths. We have to break the cycle.
“We intend to continue to fight for equity for all students, and to ensure that our parents and teachers are equipped with the resources that will lead to true systemic change.”
I am so proud of the vision that our founder and former CEO, Jayda Batchelder had when she started Education Opens Doors 10 years ago. In that time, our program has opened doors for over 80,000 students, but we’re only scratching the surface. In the state of Texas alone, there are over 1.2 million middle school students who need access to the programming that we provide. We, as an organization, intend to continue to fight for equity for all students, and to ensure that our parents and teachers are equipped with the resources that will lead to true systemic change, with every student having the opportunity for success.