“When the door of opportunity opened, I walked through it.”
I remember when I first realized things were different for me. I grew up, like many others, in a low-income household in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I saw first-hand the barriers and roadblocks tied to opportunity. But when I was in eighth grade, a girl on my traveling basketball team told me she couldn’t hang out with me one weekend because she was taking a practice ACT exam. And right then I realized: wow, she’s in eighth grade, had tutors, and her parents were already preparing her for college. In that moment I knew that without greater access to academic resources and career opportunities, achieving my long-term goals would be a challenge.
The pathway to higher education is challenging
I had done well academically and despite some hurdles, knew that with determination and hard work, I’d be the first in my family to attend college. But things got really expensive, really fast. I applied to more than 20 schools and spent an average of $50 per application, excluding the few application waivers my counselor provided, and I also paid the fees to take my college entrance exams. In contrast, my peers who were middle-to-upper class were able to comfortably pay these application and exam fees as well as supplement their acceptance rates with private tutors, lessons and college preparatory exams. During this process, I kept thinking that there had to be a better way to address the inequalities and give students who needed it most doors to opportunity
For me, inequalities in education began as early as preschool. My parents had limited or no access to high-quality early education programs due to cost and redlining. That same cycle of missed opportunities would continue through high school as I experienced less access to resources like advanced placement courses or college preparatory classes, which if offered, could have made me a stronger candidate for college and additional merit scholarships. Also, I felt the teachers and staff at my community-funded schools did not always have the support, qualifications or empathy to positively engage and instruct students or successfully do their jobs.
I just remember thinking: how can students like me get ahead when the system has us so far behind?
Youth need more opportunities to build a solid career
Over time, I realized that an effective way to close long-standing education gaps is to create a culture of equity, rather than equality — something I have benefited from along the way. I’ve heard people use these terms interchangeably to promote fairness, but they are different. Equality is giving everyone the same resources and opportunities, while equity is distributing these opportunities and resources based on need. Students like me just needed access to opportunity.
When Genesys Works gave me that opportunity to begin building my career in high school, I capitalized on it and used the resources to build a solid foundation. The professional skills, like resume and cover letter writing, mock interviewing and networking, helped set me apart from my peers. I used these skills in college when I completed two grueling internship processes, and when I attended various career fairs. I still use these skills today as a full-time professional working on Wall Street. It’s no surprise that Genesys Works students have higher rates of college enrollment and completion, and a greater ability to obtain meaningful employment due to their internship experiences, because when given an opportunity, students will succeed.
I completed my Genesys Works internship at Regis Corporation and came out on the other side wiser, stronger and prepared to succeed. I am the first in my family to go to college. I am the first in my family to graduate from college. I am the first to work on Wall Street. I am breaking a cycle with the many “firsts” I expect to have in my lifetime.
What will you do to open doors of opportunity to help students achieve “firsts”?