Family aren’t just the people you’re related to, but the people who encourage you, and I consider so many people in
KIPP New Orleans to be part of my team and family. My KIPP family has been by my side for the most part since sixth grade and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them. Some schools teach to help you pass tests; KIPP teaches you to be successful all the way to and through college. Soon, I will apply all the skills they’ve given me to start my journey as a first-generation college student at Howard University. I was born in New Orleans, but moved to Natchitoches, a small town in Louisiana, after Hurricane Katrina, when I was seven. I didn’t suffer the trauma I knew other people did; our house wasn’t destroyed and I didn’t lose anyone. And though I went to a magnet school, I never liked living in the country and I felt isolated out there. We came back when I was in sixth grade. Kayla, my cousin’s daughter, went to
KIPP Believe College Prep Charter School and she said she had a great experience. Before, she attended school in Jefferson Parish and complained that her teachers didn’t take the time out to teach her. I started at KIPP Believe a week or two after everyone else; the other kids started in fifth grade. I arrived struggling to do multiplication and felt intimidated because I thought everyone was so much smarter than I was. But my teachers never thought I couldn’t catch up. [pullquote position="left"]The great thing about KIPP teachers is that they take the time to get to know you, first and foremost. They try to figure out the gaps in your learning, what’s the best way you learn and how they can best help you. My intimidation went away. I’m still connected to my sixth grade teachers. I won’t forget all their efforts to make me feel like I belonged.
The challenge to be nothing less than exceptional
I went on to
KIPP Renaissance High School but left during the second semester of my freshman year to be around a different group of students. But it didn’t take me long to realize what I was missing. I wasn’t doing well academically and it seemed everyone was on a basic level. I did not push myself. I didn’t feel the urgency of being a good student. I didn’t realize how quickly I would need to be ready for college. I returned to KIPP Renaissance during my junior year because I knew they were not going to let me get by with being anything less than exceptional. The difference became super clear at the start of my senior year. KIPP made kids fill out college applications at the start of senior year, while my friends at other schools still hadn’t met with their counselors to talk about college. My KIPP teachers demanded more of me—teachers like AP English teacher Tamara Durant. I love her so much. She’s almost like a mother to me. Ms. Durant inspires me as an intellectual, as a woman, and as a member of the Black community, the three main parts of my identity. She always gave us the hardest work to do so we could be prepared for anything. I loved the complex books she assigned, like "Beloved," "The Crucible," or the writings of James Baldwin. We would get into so many heated discussions about them. Ms. Durant inspired my choice of where I will attend college. I’m going to Howard University on a nearly full-ride scholarship (Ms. Durant is an alumna). I got a 33 on the English and reading sections of the ACT. I also got accepted to Tulane, but I am excited to study in our nation’s capital.
Bringing knowledge back to the community
But even more important than being an intellectual, Ms. Durant said you have to be a leader. I try to be a leader in my school and in my community. This summer, I’m interning with the president of
Urban League of Greater New Orleans, Erika McConduit-Diggs (another Howard alumna), to get young people to register to vote. KIPP has given me a sense of responsibility to follow through on my belief that the only way to change your community is through political engagement. I see so many get trapped here before they have the chance to give back. I will go to Howard and be around so many successful African-Americans and bring back that knowledge to my community. I value education above everything else. And I want my community to feel the same way. I plan to major in political science and business. Many Black people don’t know enough about how money works—and how it affects our political system. The only way to change it is to get more Black people into politics. Leaving home for Howard is gut-wrenchingly scary but really, really exciting. I know I won’t be alone. Scarlet Feinberg, our school’s alumni advisor, will be checking in with me and other graduates and supporting our transition to college.
I want a life full of choices. My teachers cried at my graduation last week. But I know I’ll stay connected to them. I celebrate my Black community in New Orleans and I celebrate my KIPP family.
Photo of Brandi and her AP English teacher Ms. Durant courtesy of Brandi Slyve.
Brandi Sylve, 18, was the class president at KIPP Renaissance High School and will attend Howard University this fall on scholarship. Before heading to Howard, Brandi will be interning with the Urban League of Greater New Orleans.