Though I am in the first generation of my family to go to college, it was my eldest sister who inspired me to follow in her footsteps.
In my neighborhood, there weren’t many people who chose to go to college after graduating from high school. For many of our neighbors and friends, the accomplishment was just to get out of high school! Students graduated from high school and had access to good-paying jobs at a factory, in a government agency or with a large corporation. My sister, Deb, pursued her dream to become a teacher because she wanted to do more to work with those who were seen as under-served.
Deb went to Pennsylvania’s first institution of higher learning for Black people, Cheyney University. At that time, Cheyney was well known as a teachers college. It was where most Blacks went to get the skills needed to encourage children to become lifelong learners.
Once Deb graduated, she was assigned to work in Northeast Philadelphia and not with many children who looked like her. But she loved teaching and she was very good at it.
I remember watching her prepare lessons, grade papers, design art projects and test experiments. As soon as Deb saved enough money, though, she left our community to live closer to her workplace in the Northeast. It was the time of opportunity when many middle-class people began “moving up and out” of the low-to-moderate income communities to which they no longer felt connected.
As I look back on this time, comparing Deb’s life and mine helps me better understand the adults we are now.
I was bused to the Northeast in the third grade and begged my mother to let me return to our neighborhood high school (Deb’s alma mater). Mom agreed to allow me to return only if I agreed to go to a “White” college. So I attended Drexel University as an undergraduate. Later, when I decided to go to graduate school, I chose Lincoln University (which many say is the country’s first historically Black, degree-granting university).
While Deb chose to move out of the neighborhood of our youth, I chose to renovate and move into the home left by my grandparents that was a few doors away from my parents’ home. When it came time to purchase a home of my own, I chose one that was less than a mile away from our neighborhood.
I, too, saw a need to help those who were under-served, and I founded a nonprofit organization and named it The Educational Advocates Reaching Today’s Hardworking Students, Inc. (EARTHS), because “from which we come, we shall return.”
I am really thankful to have had the opportunity to join Deb as one of the first-generation college graduates (FGs) who have blazed the trail of college and career success for others to follow. I admire my sister for all that she has accomplished, the children that she touched and the families that she served. Because she was such a great role model, I am now educating students, enlightening families and empowering communities in my own way.
I gladly take the #ProofPointDay pledge, not as the first college graduate in my family, but as the first generation of college graduates in my family. Thanks, Deb and all FGs; may we continue to help others rise to higher heights and greater achievements!