To qualify to be a Teach For America (TFA) educator, a TFA educator MUST be resilient. Essayist John Burroughs once wrote, “For anything worth having one must pay the price; and the price is always work, patience, love, self-sacrifice--no paper currency, no promises to pay, but the gold of real service.” Of course, few truly believe that combating educational inequity will be a walk in the park. However, it is important to remember that systems rarely fall without a proper fight. Further, it is imperative to remember that systems, especially those built to oppress, dehumanize, and control minorities, never fight fair. However, leading with resilience inspires educators to keep striving for the goal of giving all children the educational system that they deserve––one that values them, believes in them, and invests in them.
Based on my experience at Hamilton, there was exactly one class on the Hill that helped me feel qualified for the TFA position and that is Professor Pavitra Sundar’s literature course: Indians, Aliens and Others. It may sound dramatic, but Sundar’s class wholeheartedly changed my life. I learned about the richness of difference, the power of perception, and the crucial role that empathy plays in our daily interactions. Because of Sundar’s class, I began to consider what inequity and inequality look like within my status as an educated black woman as well as outside the parameters of my identity. I learned that there is a world of people that seek awareness, kindness, and justice for others as well as for themselves. These individuals are often overlooked, judged, and/or dismissed simply because of their inability to fit comfortably in the boxes that society has allocated for them. So too, children in Miami, and other disenfranchised and impoverished areas, deserve advocates who demand better education and therein a better life for students of color. Although I am no longer able to do this work in a traditional way, I will always find myself back inside the classroom and back fighting for the children who are the future leaders of this country.
I like to say now that I spent my summer undergoing intense leadership training. I learned so much about leading in one month than I ever did in college (to be fair I was building off the leadership skills I obtained as a Hamilton student and especially as a Posse Scholar). I learned to be a leader who steps forward and a leader who steps back, working with my cohorts’ visions and defending my own vision when it was in the best interest of my students. My training also reinforced the fact that leadership comes in all different shades, political beliefs, economic status, etc., which reflects the diversity of the country in which we are serving. I collaborated with others of different races, ages, abilities, and mindsets. I put into practice the theories I had learned in Sundar’s course. I used positive ways to engage with others, celebrating and seeing value in those unlike myself.
At times, it was incredibly hard to be heard and to be understood, but I learned so much about the type of leader that I am during my training. I learned that I am passionate, resilient and unflinching in the face of agony (I had to drop out of the TFA program due to a currently undiagnosed severe chronic pain issue). I gave my summer school students every part of myself despite the pain, late nights, and frustration. Each time I stepped in front of them and began their lesson, I had a smile on my face because I truly believed in each and every student’s ability to surmount the systematic obstacles before them and become their best selves. I am a leader who does not need fellow warriors to lead. I am a leader who only needs a cause greater than herself.
Although my primary focus is getting healthy, I am still looking for ways to continue educating and inspiring my community’s youth. For example, I am taking my book Choose Your Own Adventure SPIES: James Armistead Lafayette ® into classrooms in Miami. I will read to fourth and fifth graders, showing them the importance of reading, writing, and having a choice in where they go in life. Lastly, this November, I had the pleasure of presenting at the Miami Book Fair where I hope to inspire children, teenagers, and adults alike who must all re-learn to dream and believe that they are worthy of an incredible future.