My first turning point.

I was just 13 and I remember getting a brochure in the mail. Apparently I was gifted, but I had no idea what that meant and why my mom was so excited about getting mail from Northwestern University.

I was offered the opportunity to take an alternative spring break.

It wasn’t my first time flying alone, but I was still nervous. Here I was, stepping off a plane in New York City, all by myself. I found my way to the appropriate adult, and the adventure began.

They put us up in an old convent in the Bronx, and we weren’t allowed out after 8pm. They took us to public schools with bars on the windows, and metal detectors before you entered the building. I remember working with kids who were completely honest in expressing the realities of their individual situations. I learned of abusive parents and parents who worked three jobs with kids who only knew how to make money by joining a gang. I met Teach for America members, incredible, hard-working professionals. These individuals put themselves out there day after day, risking harassment, and even admitting the feeling of defeat, just trying to make an impact in the lives of these children.

But what I remember most is coming home, sharing my story with classmates and hearing nothing but rejection.

“What are you talking about?”

“There’s no education problem.”

“This is an equal opportunity country.”

I was heart broken, but it’s something I have carried with me ever since. I’m a champion for the individual, I want nothing but an equal opportunity country, and for there to be no education problems, but that simply is not true.

I’m grateful that the dialogue is changing and I continue to work, to learn, to challenge.