I was raised to honor my roots. I am rooted in the community of St. Louis, MO where I was reared. My home is a few miles away from Ferguson - where I work with so many exceptional partners to empower our youth through educational opportunities and have been engaging in collective activism since the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager who was one day away from attending college.
I've dedicated my career--and my life--to ensuring that all children are afforded an excellent education that will secure them a future filled with opportunity and unadulterated choice. I see greatness in every child - greatness that can only be fully realized with the uninterrupted opportunity to live, grow and prosper. The opportunity stolen from Michael, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Jones and Tony Robinson. The opportunity that continues to be snatched from many more like them who are cyclical victims of systemic injustice.
If we are to preserve the dignity of our children--even and especially the ones our systems dismiss--we must uproot the intentionally unequal systems that currently govern us, and replace them with fair, equitable, and just structures that consider the humanity of every person. As we're tragically reminded almost daily, this fight is deeply connected to policing and criminal justice, but it is also greatly tied to the infrastructures of daily life for oppressed people: poverty, racism, health care, political representation, and, at a fundamental level, education.
Recently, there has been much made about increasing high school graduation rates among youth of color -and yes, we should be proud of progress, but white students are still graduating at a higher rate than many others. The truth is that in 2015, in a changing world of high tech jobs, a global economy, and a fight for freedom that will require the greatest minds to act, a high school diploma is not the ceiling. It is the floor. Moreover, it is much too early to declare victory when the stories hidden beyond the data reveal systemic, historic issues that are deeply and continuously woven in the fabric of our nation. We still see vast disparities in equity and educational outcomes across zip code, race and income bracket. The wealth gap is growing; children born into low-income families have more difficulty breaking the cycle of poverty. In St. Louis, nearly 30,000 individuals have left the city within the last few decades in search of better educational opportunities for their children.
At this critical moment in our nation, where the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore continue to reveal the need for systemic change, we are trekking a tumultuous, sobering path. Yet, hope is what keeps me in the fight. And, because of the children who have made their voices heard in the classroom and the streets, I have hope for a more just tomorrow.
As a black woman, educator and advocate, my faith is encouraged by the strong and dedicated trailblazers who have walked before me, walk beside me, and will walk paths yet to come. Mothers like Minnie Liddell, a St. Louis native who created her own path where there was none, establishing more than 30 schools throughout Missouri for African Americans and successfully suing the state to provide integrated education for all students. Scholars like Julia Davis, who dedicated 35 years as a St. Louis Public School educator and advocate for the exploration of African American history. Storytellers like Johnetta Elzie, who has unflinchingly carried the truth to every corner of the internet, boardrooms and panels that have never seen the likes of an outspoken, 26-year-old black woman before.
Now is the time for courage. Now is the time to honor these powerful examples of what is possible by unapologetically empowering the next generation to fight for what we know is right. Despite the discomfort, despite the opposition. Now is the time to develop students who are not only strong learners but are brave leaders. Brave leaders like Clifton Kinnie who grew an appreciation for the role education plays in his life, is an active organizer in Ferguson, MO, and aspires to do even more to strengthen his community when he graduates from college. Courageous souls like Desmon Simmons, who, on a stoop in Sandtown, Baltimore, told me of the "great wisdom in our genes" that inspired him to attend every protest he could for Freddie Gray, and volunteer at his old elementary school even though he's now a high schooler. Bold young women like Destiny Crockett, who took the fight of her hometown of St. Louis to the halls of Princeton, where she has organized resistance to racism as a second year student and St. Louis Public Schools graduate. To ensure that we are doing right by our children, we must empower them to learn and lead as they seek to boldly blaze paths in ways unique to the uncompromising spirit of their generation.
It will take all of us -- every system of government, allies from every background, families in every community - to step up and bring about the day when all children are treated with revolutionary love within and outside of the classroom and prepared to lead us forward. As a society, we must take meaningful, systemic action to give our children access to the opportunities and dignity they deserve.
Brittany works in K-12 urban education as an Executive Director at Teach For America, serving 20,000 low-income students and students of color across her hometown of St. Louis. She is an active Ferguson protestor and advocates for equity, justice and systemic change for marginalized communities. She moderated the #FergusonFireside Conference Calls with America, and serves on the President's Task Force for 21st Century Policing and Ferguson Commission. She was named by TIME Magazine as one of 12 New Faces of Black Leadership in January 2015. She is @MsPackyetti on Twitter.