When I think about my time here at University of Richmond, I think about a whirlwind of incredible experiences: working as a barista, writing page after page of research papers until 4 a.m. and meeting the most amazing professors in the world. When I arrived at Richmond, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do after I graduated. But as I got deeper into my computer science major, I had second thoughts. The more I reflected on all the opportunity and privilege I had that helped me get to where I was, the more I wanted to give back what had been given to me and make an impact.
I know I’m incredibly lucky. I worked hard to get to – and through – college, and faced struggles along the way, but I also went to a high school where students were expected to graduate. We had plenty of extra support and resources to help us plan our next chapters. Whenever I needed support, I never had to look far.
As a member of the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Tribe of Virginia, I know that that’s not true for far too many of my fellow Native people. Native Americans living on reservations such as Pine Ridge face incredible struggles. Among them is a grave lack of opportunity in education. Although I did not grow up on a reservation, I feel pulled to be part of helping the children who do access the futures they deserve.
There are so many valuable, important ways to get involved. For me, I can think of no better place than the classroom, where – with support and access to resources – kids can recognize, embrace and capitalize on their enormous potential. My cousin started her education career as a teacher with Teach For America. After seeing the impact she was able to have, I applied to TFA as well.
I didn’t decide to teach because I think I’m going to be a hero. This work will be incredibly challenging and humbling, and I will have to push myself harder than I ever have to give my students the education they deserve. I will need to partner closely with the parents, teachers and community members who have been working towards justice and equality long before I arrived. But I don’t want a job that lets me turn a blind eye to the injustice kids face every day. I want one that forces me to look injustice in the face and fight it with all my heart. I want one that holds me accountable for the injustices that plague Native communities; although I did not create them, I would still bear responsibility if I chose not to address them.
When I become a Teach For America corps member after graduation, I’ll be joining a network of more than 47,000 people working relentlessly to make access to opportunity equitable. It’s a network of leaders with vastly diverse backgrounds and experiences who are working across sectors to create change. But we are all united around the fundamental belief that a quality education is not a privilege – it is a right. We can fight to ensure all students get to enjoy that right. As you think about what in the world you’re going to do after you leave here, I hope you’ll join us.