Think about how you feel when you are valued, well-nourished and rested and inspired to take on new challenges. That is a really good day. No one has a good day every day. But the truth is that for many students in Dallas County, those days are few and far between. That is what it means to be impoverished. That is poverty at its cruelest. The racist history of my city, Dallas and the pervasive inequities the global pandemic exposed establish a clear call to action to end this cruelty.
In Dallas, we refuse to lose to it.
I am the daughter of Mexican immigrants and a first-generation American. My parents crossed the border so I could cross a stage. I grew up in “the Grove,” one of the poorest neighborhoods in Dallas. And, for a long time growing up, I felt I carried the weight of all their dreams, all their sacrifices. I believed in and had access to the narrative that good grades and being a leader would help me get an education that would lead to a better quality of life. It has worked for me marvelously.
I am a college graduate and an elected official. While it is easy to separate me from the kids I grew up with and who have not achieved similar life outcomes, the truth is that one adult’s decision to ensure I enrolled in a school in which I would thrive—Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School—has made all the difference in the world for me (let me be the first to tell you there is nothing particularly “special” about me). That person was my elementary school principal who urged my mother not to enroll me in the local middle school but in a new 6th -12th grade school in Dallas ISD with far more resources, far more philanthropic support, and a professional network my family could have never afforded. His staff even went so far as to complete all the paperwork I needed to be accepted into a school with competitive enrollment. Without this deliberate investment, I would be telling you a different life story based on my zip code.
This is critical to understand because I represent most students in public schools across the country. In Dallas ISD, I look like the 95 percent of students who are of color. Yet there are still kids in my neighborhood who cannot read, young adults who have started college but are short on money to make it to the next semester, and former neighbors spending their years in prison from decisions stemmed from the desperation in an underinvested and underserved community.
I want better, and we deserve better. When they do well, I do well. It takes one college graduate to change the trajectory for an entire family tree. I know that from personal experience. I can be the expectation, not the exception. That is what the stakes are.
Creating the conditions for success in Dallas starts at the dinner table, because systems are created and upheld by people like you and me. We can push for bold and courageous action. In Dallas, we’re transforming failing schools into much higher performing ones. In fact, my former elementary school, Titche, was once on the verge of closure, but is now a National Blue Ribbon awardee. To win, the people of Dallas need to advocate, donate, invest, mentor, volunteer, incubate, and support the relentless work to ensure all children—not just the lucky ones like me—succeed.
If there is one thing I learned growing up in “the Grove,” it’s “¿a que venimos a este país? ¡A triunfar! [Why did we come to this country? To succeed!].”
I am proud to work at Commit, the organization coordinating Dallas County’s cradle-to-career efforts. We are working at all levels of the system, early childhood, K-12, higher education and transitions into the workforce to ensure that more and more students from the neighborhoods like mine have life outcomes that are similar to mine. At its core, Commit understands an important truth: “Kids are not the problem. It starts with adults.”
Let us refuse to lose. ¡Sí se puede!