Editor’s Note: Dr. Jones originally wrote this piece as part of Rocketship’s weekly Thursday Reflection, in which selected staff reflect on their practice and current topics and share with the larger Rocketship staff. All names were changed to protect confidentiality. We’re reprinting these inspirational words in celebration of Black History Month.
“What are you?”
“Which side do you identify with? Black? White?”
“Who are you more like?”
These are questions I negotiate, answer, re-answer, and avoid all throughout my life as a biracial individual.
People who come to visit us in the south are surprised to see the statue of a Confederate soldier on the side of I-65, the Confederate flags on cars flying high and – if they notice – the segregation in churches and restaurants.
The impact of segregation also separates one school from another in the same district, just by traveling to the other side of town. No one seems surprised by the predominantly African American make-up of project housing and poor neighborhoods. The events in the news this past year have come as no surprise to most of us. However, the fact that they are gaining attention is.
Unfortunately, some of our students are the least surprised. Our Rocketeers are not just facing situational poverty, they are fighting generational poverty – the only way of life they know. Working at a local fast food restaurant may be their greatest example of success. Violence is a daily occurrence in their communities, while setting foot outside a five-mile radius of their home is a rarity. These are the realities many of our students face.
And even now, it rarely makes the news.
I am reminded of myself in many of them. I see myself in Aliyah, a quiet yet determined girl who never quite knows where her feet will land when she goes “home” in the evenings. I see myself in Malik, who wears the same clothes over and over again hoping no one will notice, and thankful for every bite of food he gets at school. I see myself in Raven, who almost slipped by another year hiding her inability to read. But unlike Aliyah, Malik, and Raven, I was halfway through high school when I discovered that my path was not predetermined for poverty.
What we do for our Rocketeers, what we equip our students with, what we give them to fight what has already come their way, is about more than an education. It is about instilling a vision for their future that is not defined by violence and injustice, but peace and limitless potential. We teach them to love, to care, to advocate. We teach them they deserve to be treated equally and fairly. And we teach them that like Dr. King, they too deserve to have a dream.
Our collective Rocketeer community teaches them that their lives matter.
We give them a choice, a goal, and the tools to succeed no matter what comes their way. They have already learned the ways of their neighborhood. What they must now do is unlearn and relearn. As educators, we empower them to do just that.
As I reflect on Dr. King’s legacy and the Black Lives Matter movement, I reflect on our Rocketeers and the many we have yet to reach. The achievement gap is not some far-off idea. It walks into our schools every day, it lives down the block, and continues on throughout schools across the country. We are never far from where we’ve come, but we must learn from where we came. We must push for every moment and every student.
I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt, an educator. I am an achievement gap closer. I am a Rocketeer.
Bianca grew up in Nashville, Tennessee where she was as a student in Metro Nashville Public Schools. She discovered her love of learning through caring teachers who held her accountable for her education and pushed her to excel in both the classroom and extracurricular activities. Today, Bianca is dedicated to working in inner-city schools where she strives to instill a love of learning in her students. After teaching in several public schools throughout Metro Nashville for seven years, Bianca joined the Rocketship family. She is excited to be a part of the change that Rocketship is bringing to the students, families and communities in the area. When she’s not leading Rocketship United Academy, Bianca has her nose in a wonderful book, is hanging out with her dog Jack, or enjoying Nashville’s eclectic culinary scene and using those inspirations in her own cooking.