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Inspiration from the Streets of Memphis

March 26, 2013

During our summertime errands, my father would drive through Memphis’ Binghampton neighborhood on the way to the music store. He was a high school band director and I was his ever-present sidekick. On one of these especially memorable drives through the streets of my hometown, I remember talking to my dad about what I saw. Men sat on the street curbs drinking from paper sacks while shoeless children haphazardly ran across Tillman Street. Some teenaged boys down the street played basketball on asphalt courts with net-less baskets. Women and teenaged girls were perched on various benches, some braiding hair or watching the younger children play on the sidewalks and in the streets.

That day I remember so well included a frank conversation with my dad about why children were allowed to run in the street, why men needed to drink out of the paper sacks, and how the children were able to walk on the scorching asphalt without shoes. I recognized their lives as so drastically different from my own and I knew that I wanted to help. I had known from a young age that I wanted to be a teacher someday. However, the observations I made as a child about the inequities in childhood experiences fostered a yearning to work with children in underprivileged neighborhoods.

My parents’ persistence in pushing me to set and achieve goals, their standards for hard work, and their strong vision for my life are the reasons I was able to be successful in school. When I was ten, we moved back to Tennessee from Kansas. My mother and father were determined for my sister and me to have the best education available to us. My father visited several reputable schools in the Memphis suburbs to find the one he felt would be the best fit for us. Then, they found the cheapest rental available in the wealthy suburb. I credit this decision as the single most important move my parents made in helping me to become successful. They valued my education and made sure at every turn that I had the opportunities I would need to achieve my goals. The sacrifices they made during these years have allowed me to dream and develop beyond what was expected of a child from a working class family like mine.

My passion for educating underprivileged students is rooted in this realization of how lucky I am to have been afforded this level of parental support, sacrifice, and dedication. Many parents are not equipped with the skills and resources to be effective advocates for their children’s education. As an educator, I know that one of my essential roles is to help support and empower parents and students to be successful advocates for their education.

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