Every year, thousands of people across America embark on an incredible journey. They are a variety of people -- from young to old, recent college graduates to retirees, lawyers to medical professionals from all backgrounds and from states across the country. These people are Teach For America Corps members, and, year after year and day by day, they are giving their hearts, minds and souls to be a part of the movement to create better opportunities for all children, no matter where they're from, who their family is or the color of their skin.
As a Teach For America Corps member, entering my second year (you can read more about my first year here), I had to ask myself, "What are Teach For America's empowering and inspiring corps members to do after their initial two-year commitment?" The first step to answering this question landed me in one Teach For America alum's office in Washington Heights, one of the most ethnically-diverse neighborhoods of New York City.
Mark Levine taught bilingual math and science at Junior High School 149 in the Bronx. He was a member of Teach For America's second-ever teacher corps in 1991. While teaching, he noticed something during his time as a teacher that had a little to do with math, but nothing to do with his curriculum: Many families in New York City are taken advantage of by loan sharks that targeted low-income communities, and he saw the need for his students' parents to be able to access fair loans.
In 1994, after he completed his commitment to Teach For America, he created the Neighborhood Trust Federal Credit Union, which has loaned $15 million to low-income families and runs community initiatives promoting financial literacy. In 2013, he won a seat on the NYC Council, where he represents the same district where he founded his credit union. Councilman Levine's credit union continues to operate and serve families in NYC, and he continues to fight for the advancement of people across his district.
Needless to say, I was inspired by Councilman Levine and the work he has done since his commitment with Teach For America. Although as incredible as his work has been, he was still just one Teach For America alum and that hardly answered my question of what alumni are doing on a mass scale. I needed to look broader and bigger.
It did not take me long to realize that I was not going to be disappointed. I was thrilled to find that over 4,200 Teach For America alumni still reside in New York City; I was also surprised to find that two-thirds of the alumni in the city remain in a career related to education. In New York City that means that almost 3,000 TFA alumni continue to work in education, including about 1,400 NYC teachers. What about their stories, though? What are they doing? And what about the ones who did not stay in education?
• Osh Ghanimah joined Teach for America in New York City after college and served as a public school teacher beyond his initial two-year commitment in Harlem and the South Bronx. Since then, he earned an MFA in Acting at Harvard and now works as an actor with credits such as Law & Order: SVU and The Blacklist. Perhaps most impressive though, he is Founder and CEO of Broadway For All, a non-profit he started through a Harvard Presidential Public Service Fellowship, which strategically selects talented middle and high school students from various socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds across NYC to participate in a summer conservatory led entirely by actors from Broadway.
• Sophia Pappas entered Teach for America to tackle issues of educational equity. Although she did not plan on serving pre-kindergarten students, she was assigned to work in a Newark Public School's pre-k program. Fast forward to today, Ms. Pappas serves as the Executive Director of the Office of Early Childhood Education for the NYC Department of Education. In 2001, 35,000 children were participating in pre-K in New York City, and, under her leadership, student enrollment in NYC pre-K had grown to 58,205 by 2012. She now manages a budget of $640 million and is responsible for universal pre-K initiative being rolled-out in New York City.
• Jarell Lee grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where he recalls attending seven different schools over a two-year period, as his family moved between homeless shelters. Inspired by the impact of his teachers, Jarell went on to join Teach for America. He continued to teach 2nd and 3rd grade beyond his initial two-year commitment at Uncommon Schools: Excellence Boys Charter School in Brooklyn. Today, he serves as the Founding Dean of Culture at Achievement First Aspire Elementary.
In the end, my questions were answered, and the answers were as incredible as the people that fulfilled them. What are Teach For America Corps Members doing, after they finish their initial two-year commitment? They are revolutionizing education, impacting business, leading cities, and creating opportunities for all people. They are doing that which is the basis of Teach For America: working as part of a larger movement to ensure a nation where all people, regardless of race, background, or gender have the opportunity to live their dreams, proving to kids across the nation that dreams are strong and can become a reality. Across America, Teach For America alumni are building a brighter world for the children of today and the future of tomorrow.
This post is dedicated to the family of photojournalist James Wright Foley, a Teach For America alum
David is a Teach For America Corp Member in New York City. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.