I remember it clearly. I was a senior in high school facing the daunting question all seniors have to answer: What was I going to do with my life? What legacy did I want to leave behind?
For some, this was a simple question to answer; as children, they imagined themselves as doctors, lawyers, nurses and policewomen. Growing up, that passion never left them, and they embarked on a road toward a profession that seemed to claim them so early in life. But I’ve wondered — how did they get that vision and passion so young? And how was it sustained?
I was a young African American girl going to high school in Newark, New Jersey. I had always known that going to college was a must, and I looked forward to that journey. But it wasn’t until my senior year when I was faced with choosing a career path that I realized how unprepared I was.
This unpreparedness was not academic in nature. I had studied hard and knew that I had all the confidence and brainpower to survive college. Academically, I was fine. I realized, however, that I didn’t have a dream for myself. I had never taken the time to visualize myself past those college gates. I was there, but I was there without a vision.
Vision is needed to be successful in life. It allows us to forge a path for ourselves, even when the path is riddled with stumbling blocks and detours.
My choice to become an educator was due in part to the fact that I had gone through my entire primary and secondary educational career without a vision for my future. How many other young students were allowed to embark on such a life-changing journey without a road map, I wondered?
I realized that I wanted to be on the front line and help the next generation of young people create their own vision of the future. I wanted to play a part in the efforts that ensured they had all the necessary tools needed to fulfill their dreams.
As an African American woman and educator, I know firsthand the damage that unjust educational policies and legislation can cause. It threatens not only the system itself, but the human spirit.
Education should be the means by which one becomes. It is the path toward discovering who one is and who one wants to be. Take that away, and you’re left with a system that strips students of vision, exploration and dreams.
For some students, school is the only place where they have the opportunity to envision themselves as doctors and lawyers. I believe it’s my voice and action to advocate for policies that will positively affect students and the quality of education they receive — the very policies that will determine whether these students achieve their dreams.
It is my job to make sure they have a vision on how to get there. But as global citizens, it is our collective responsibility to ensure the path forward is clear and ready to embrace these students and their vision because their future is our reality.
The work I do with StudentsFirst is really important to my community and me. I know it takes more than just being in the classroom teaching. It takes more than going to college and getting a master’s degree in education. It takes action! It takes going into the community and informing parents on educational policies and legislation and how they affect their child and their community.
Recently, I journeyed to the State Capitol with other StudentsFirst members to meet with elected officials. It was an awesome experience. I encourage everyone to take an active role in protecting the vision and dreams of our children. They’re depending on us.
Jihan Burdah is a third grade teacher at Harvest Preparatory Academy in North Minneapolis. She resides in Eden Prairie and is one of more than 29,000 StudentsFirst members in Minnesota.