I always thought I was super smart. Until I got to college. Even though I lived in Englewood, one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods, I attended accelerated programs and magnet schools from preschool through high school graduation. And I had to travel all over Chicago’s South Side to access them: preschool in Back of the Yards, grammar school in Brighton Park and high school in Hyde Park. In all these programs, I always excelled academically and scored way above average on state exams. I was also involved in a number of extracurricular activities and had a very active social life. In my mind, I was a golden child. (LOL!) Entering high school, I hadn’t thought about going to college—my plan was to graduate, get a good job and hold onto it until I retired. But since all of my friends were going and my guidance counselors were pushing it, I figured I’d give it a try. I was accepted into schools like Michigan State and Hampton University but because I’d never lived outside of the state, I picked nearby Northern Illinois University (NIU). On orientation day, I headed out to DeKalb, Illinois, registered for my classes, got some NIU paraphernalia, took a math placement exam and…that’s when my ego was deflated. I failed the exam. And before I could take any college-level math classes, I had to pass a
remedial math course. The math I should have learned in high school. I was devastated and confused. I questioned my decision to attend college at all. How could I have been an honor student my entire life but fail a college placement test? It just didn’t make sense. But by this point I had made it a goal to be the first in my immediate family to graduate from college. So I pushed aside my doubts and persevered. Ultimately, I graduated from NIU and later went on to earn a master’s degree from DePaul University.
My story is the same as a rare few from my community. We’re the lucky ones. But sadly, the majority of the kids from my neighborhood never make it to college, or even through high school. Here we are, in 2017, and Black and Brown communities are
still lacking high-quality schools. I quickly learned that if you live in a certain ZIP code, come from a low-income family, or maybe even have a certain skin color or disability, it is going to be more difficult for you to access a quality education. Why people refuse to invest in high-need communities baffles me. Why is it OK to pass us through a subpar education system? It’s unjust and infuriating. And I’m tired and pissed off. That’s why I am a voice on a mission to ignite other voices, an advocate who knows that a quality education is the foundation for success, and a change-seeker who will no longer stand for the status quo. Parent, student, teacher and community voices have been silenced and excluded for too long. And we shouldn’t be surprised. The system is built to disempower us. People talk about the “American Dream,” saying if you work hard and follow the rules you can get out of poverty and build a successful life. But in my neighborhood, it’s got more to do with luck than hard work. But it’s on us, too. Many of us have grown complacent with what we’ve been given. And if we sincerely want change, we must advocate for it. I joined Education Post to continue my mission to get more people engaged in this conversation. How do we make sure our schools are doing their job to educate our kids? How do we make sure we have access to good schools, even if we live in the “wrong” neighborhood? I do this work for those of us who have been marginalized, disempowered and disadvantaged by an inequitable and discriminatory system. When more voices from communities like mine are telling their stories and are being heard, we will strengthen the case for investing in the sort of high-quality schools we need and deserve. I wholeheartedly believe that education is the foundation for success. It’s where you discover your talents, your dreams and ambitions, your purpose and passion—and most importantly, your potential. Without access to a quality education, you will always be limited in your options, opportunities and future success.
Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work—“If not me, then who?” As the former Deputy Director of Activist Development for brightbeam, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for change in the public education system. Her passion for community and relentless mission for justice and liberation drive her in uplifting and amplifying the voices and ...