I began my journey as a mother in November of 2013, seeing only the brightest future for my son. We slept the night that he was born and rose to the sun gleaming into our hospital room. My baby winced at the sun and cried at the sight of it. I wondered why he cried—it was just a little natural light, but as I comforted him I realized that he had never seen the sun. I would have to teach him that the bright sphere in the sky was a life giver: “This is Mr. Sun.”
Since that first day motherhood has been anything but a walk in the park. One of my greatest challenges has been finding a good school for my son.
I’m from Chicago, where the best of the best go to selective enrollment schools, while the rest of our children are subject to whatever their neighborhoods have to offer. My mother fought long and hard so that I could be that selective-enrollment student.
My mother spent the majority of my and my siblings’ childhoods focused on our education. She taught me how to read before kindergarten, which got me through the most trying of public school circumstances.
I started my education at the neighborhood public school, and then my mom moved us from place to place seeking a high-quality education and safe community for us to thrive. By the time I was 15, we had moved over 20 times.
I started at a selective enrollment school in seventh grade and it ended at ninth grade with the closing of the school for renovations—it wouldn’t reopen until years later. Beginning at 6:30 a.m., I would travel on the train from the city’s far South Side to reach the Southwest Side by 8:00 a.m. for my first period class.
I was entirely ungrateful for my experience at my selective enrollment school until I was thrust back into a neighborhood school. Leaving a selective enrollment high school to attend a traditional public school was a culture shock.
The expectations set for students were incredibly low, and for the first time in my life, I heard students say that they weren’t interested in going to college or the military. Instead, they wanted to transition into the workforce after high school. And then there were kids who had no clue where they wanted to go in life.
This was impactful to me, so much so that I began to wonder how much of their lack of ambition was attributed to their environment and how much was attributed to their own sense of self-worth and competence. When I initially transferred, I attempted “regular classes” because I assumed they’d be easier but I was not satisfied with such low expectations.
In less than a week, I switched back to honors classes.
High school became a survival session for me. I disconnected from my peers with the exception of a few and I focused on graduating and going to college even if I wasn’t at the top of the class. My family sustained my zeal for higher education. They never allowed me to feel like there was anything that I couldn’t accomplish.
Now that my son is approaching pre-K, it’s my turn to fight for his education. I live and work in the South Shore community and I never fully understood the frustration with education in lower-income communities until my child became school-age.
I pondered our neighborhood schools and came to a resounding absolutely not. I began looking at public charter school and private school options in the area only to find that I would not be satisfied with either environment for my son.
I became so frustrated with the poor quality and superficiality of the educational facilities in our area that I turned into my mother. I began looking for apartments in better communities with better schools. I finally found a place in a great community with a great school, and the feeling is bittersweet.
Even though I managed to find a school for my son, I can’t help but wonder: Why can’t my son at the age of 4 attend school in his current community without sacrificing his intellect and freedom? Why am I concerned about my 4-year-old being fed into the school-to-prison pipeline?
A child’s quality of education should not be determined by their socioeconomic status. Our society reinforces systemic hopelessness in our poor and lower-middle class communities by making equity in education unattainable. We reinforce classism and racism each time that we deny a child his or her right to an equal education to their wealthier counterparts.
It is imperative that parents seek out what it takes to fight for their child’s right to a fair and equitable education. No family should live in the shadow of possibility.