Erin Jones is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts in local innovation.
My passion to become a public school educator began on the basketball court. After a year of college in a predominantly white, affluent community, I was convinced I did not belong in this country. I had grown up overseas, so although I looked like the few other black people who lived or worked on campus, I was an outsider. To the white community, I was a black woman, for whom they had low expectations. I felt so alone and so alienated that I actually considered suicide.
The summer after my freshman year, I discovered a little black community within miles of my college. In the middle of that community was an outdoor basketball court. I stepped out on the court as the only female, the only college student, the only “outsider.” On that court, no one cared that I was adopted, that my parents were white or that I had grown up in another country. They cared that I could play ball. I became “one of the guys.” For the first time, I belonged.
Between games, the guys would sit and talk about life. Hopelessness was rampant. These young men did not expect to live to be 21. None of them had finished high school. Not one knew of anyone who had attended college. They spoke of high schools in which the focus was security, not education, where there were often more students than chairs or books. My life mission became clear. I had been raised as a black child in a country that saw no race, in a school that saw each and every student as gifted. I had come to America with a dream to change the world, with hopes of becoming a lawyer and working for the United Nations, but the greatest social justice issue of the 20th century was staring me in the face: young black men needed a public school system that served their needs and set them up for success beyond the basketball court.
After a summer on that basketball court, I made a decision: I would change education in this country to ensure that every black boy received a great education and had the option to attend college. I soon discovered that the problems in our system are much broader than what was happening with black boys. Zip code, race, and home language continue to be the greatest predictors of the quality of education a child will receive, and this is a travesty. There is still much work to be done, but it has been my honor to work towards the improvement of education for all children in this country, from Philadelphia to South Bend, from Columbus to Tacoma, from Spokane to Olympia and now Federal Way. Our children cannot be described by achievement gaps. The system - public education and American culture, in general - has created gaps in opportunity and expectation, and it is my goal to be part of closing those gaps.
Erin Jones is the Director of Equity and Achievement for the Federal Way School District in South Seattle