Who will stand with us?

Reflections by Wendy Etheridge-Smith, Ph.D, Higher Achievement Pittsburgh Executive Director

I recently debated with a new staff person about Higher Achievement’s choice to use “By 2030, all students in Higher Achievement cities will graduate high school ready for college” as a strategic “goal” rather than a “vision.” On the one hand, it seems far-fetched as a goal. I mean, is that really possible? But, on the other hand, can we continue to simply let it be a vision, a hope without substance and plans to deliver outcomes for the future?

This morning, I am struck by two events last night that convince me ever more that it is imperative to choose to commit ourselves to a goal that is beyond Higher Achievement’s ability to achieve alone but that is something we must do nonetheless.

-Last night, Higher Achievement co-sponsored an event led by A+ Schools and the Education Law Center as the kick-off for Dr. Monique Morris’s book, “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools,” which identifies the plight of black girls in schools. It was excellent to see attention raised to the school-to-confinement pipeline that exists for black girls akin to the school-to-prison pipeline that is so well known as existing for black boys. We cannot separate into arguments about intervening in black boys vs. black girls lives. Black lives matter.

-Last night, five adults lost their lives – four women and one man – shot down at a backyard barbecue that was such a heinous model of America’s urban terrorism problem that my mother from Philadelphia called this morning to make sure we were all OK since most of my in-laws and my church are located in that community. It occurred in a community that is about to join our Homewood Achievement Center next year for educational services at Pittsburgh Westinghouse Academy 6 – 12 with tons of apprehension about the fights and neighborhood violence that will arise when that transition occurs. Where one lives should not dictate that citizens should fight, maim, or kill one another.

Dr. Morris said that “Education is a protective factor from involvement in the criminal system.” I wonder if those shooters did well in school, graduating with degrees that indicated they could work in today’s jobs that provide life-sustaining wages. Or, were they trapped in jobs that barely provide enough to own a home – even in Pittsburgh’s low home cost market?

I say that education provides options for life rather than death. So, this morning, I feel ever more committed and determined to find other like-minded individuals, organizations, churches, schools, colleges, etc. that will partner together to commit to the audacious goal of all students in Pittsburgh graduating high school ready for college. There should be choice for all students that is not dictated by the zip code in which one lives in terms of their educational and career futures.

Who will stand with us? Who will stop pointing fingers and blame, stop musing on how such efforts didn’t work the last time, stop pushing their own agendas and egos, and start working in a flexible, compromising way united to ensure hope and a future for black lives? Who yet dares to hope and dream what seems to be the impossible? I and Higher Achievement Pittsburgh sure do!