By Richard Barth, Chief Executive Officer, KIPP Foundation
Over the course of this fall, we’ve talked a lot at KIPP about our twentieth anniversary, our efforts to keep raising the bar academically, and our focus on helping students find a great college match.
Before our holiday break, I want to take a minute to reflect on our work in a broader context. Since just before Thanksgiving, when the Michael Brown grand jury verdict was announced, the level of frustration felt across the country has been all too understandable. And over the last few weeks, so many of you reading this have been engaging with students in deep discussions about the issues of race and equality in our country, declaring that #blacklivesmatter.
The bottom line is that if you are a young person of color growing up in America today, and if you come from a family with limited resources, you can’t help but be frustrated. You can’t help but feel angry. When just 6% of African American males starting high school in Chicago go on to get a college degree, you absolutely know the deck is stacked.
I was thinking about this a lot this past weekend, and I was trying to imagine what would happen if I held a meeting in an affluent community (let’s say Greenwich, Connecticut) and announced to all families with school-aged children that from this point forward, 6% of the boys would be eligible to get a college degree. And for the rest – 94% – I wish you the best of luck. Imagine what would happen. There would be marches. For sure. But that’s the least of what would happen. There would be immediate recalls of political leaders, and elections of new ones. No expense would be spared to accomplish that. There would be boycotts of the existing schools. Families would organize and new colleges would be created and space would be made for the 94%. With the advantages of money or influence or access to more options, what wouldn’t the families be willing and able to do?
We should pull no punches here. We live in a society that is designed to get the results we are getting. It isn’t an accident that 6% of African American males in Chicago will graduate from college. And it isn’t an accident that academically lower-performing rich kids graduate from college at a higher rate than smart kids growing up in our most under-resourced communities.
And so I am feeling a mixed range of emotions as we head into our holiday break. On the one hand, I am incredibly frustrated that despite the progress that has been made during my lifetime, we have so much more work to do. On another hand, I feel personally challenged to reflect and act on my own set of experiences and beliefs and ensure that I’m doing all I can to change things for the better. And finally, my most optimistic set of emotions knows that the next generation – the students with whom we are working every day – will be the ones who make this world a better place for us all.
That’s why, as we head into this holiday break, I want to thank all of you working in education. In particular, I want to thank teachers who have used this moment to engage students in deep and powerful discussions on the topic of race, equality, and access to opportunity. Who have supported students as they engage in the public dialogue themselves, whether it is through marching, writing, or speaking. Who have recognized, so clearly, that our kids are the leaders of tomorrow.
I will not make the case that education solves every issue. We do not believe or say that at KIPP. At the same time, I do believe deep in my heart that the work you all do is the most powerful work to be done. At the end of the day, education is opportunity. And opportunity is freedom.
At this point in my life, based on all I’ve seen, experienced, and read, I’ve come to believe that the people who change the world are the people who are on the ground, doing the work that needs to be done to move us forward to a better place.
To all of you working in schools doing great things for kids in low-income communities, here is my wish. I hope each of you finds the time and space that will allow you to reflect upon the possibility that you are changing the world. Not everyone you meet may recognize that is what you are doing. But it is true.
I want to thank each and every one of you, for waking up each morning and refusing to accept the world as it is, and instead embracing the challenge of building a better tomorrow. Yes, you are changing the world. And if you have any doubts about that as we head into our holiday break, please take a few minutes and watch this video to remind yourself of the future we’re all working towards.