By Janelle Ridley, MPP Economic and Racial Equity Concentration Chair and PhD Student
As I sit and reflect on 2021—what this past year has meant to me personally, professionally, and spiritually—I take a moment to breathe, to fully inhale and exhale. At times, I am grateful that my purpose and journey are all interconnected. Other times, I am in profound exhaustion because they are interconnected, and the fight to not give up becomes so challenging that it continues to surprise me that my spiritual purpose wins. I just finished my first semester as a doctoral student at a university nationally known for its research. People who look like me are not typically in the research space, so I continue to be thankful for those who have supported me in this direction. As so many continue to poignantly state, I am blessed because of those who have paved the way for me to be here.
The youth I have worked with continue to be my most outstanding teachers and leaders—my journey is their story.
As a woman of color, the journey and the weight of it all is heavy. This country’s social stain and branding do not allow for good and decent humans to do work that services others. As a former social worker, educator, and district administrator, it is a battle and, at times, a war to show up for the youth you are working for and be fully present to support them because of the bureaucracies that get in the way. Culturally and societally, we say that is what we want. We watch as those in leadership positions make declarations that education and equity are a priority, but when it comes down to it, the needle has not moved far. Progress—yes; equity—no.
The youth I have worked with continue to be my most outstanding teachers and leaders—my journey is their story. Three and a half years ago, I founded Transition HOPE, a program designed to give youth who are system-involved an opportunity to work alongside college and university educators in reciprocal learning. Transition HOPE sets high expectations, provides opportunity and purposeful pathways to youth who have often been left out of higher education trajectories, and encourages them to build who they are rather than what others have told them they would be. I was fortunate to partner with institutions like AGNCY, Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Lesley University, The Educational Justice Institute at MIT, Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, Harvard Radcliffe Institute, and William James College and work alongside like-minded individuals who wanted to create room for youth not typically in higher education spaces. I started Transition HOPE due to the stories and beliefs that the young people I worked with held in their minds and heart.
A wise man said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
Often, young people hear that they should get an education or need an education, but it is never explained why it’s essential. We don’t lean heavily enough on explaining that getting an education is essential to getting a quality job and fair wages. Absent a quality education, inequities grow. It’s about changing the generational cycles that have held marginalized communities hostage and the societal frameworks that advance those who are not of color.
I have these conversations with the young people I work with. Although their stories have had pain, trauma, violence, dysfunction, shame, guilt, and heavy burdens, it is not the end of their stories. They have time to change. Changing their trajectory does not mean erasing the past; it’s about understanding how those things happened and why. It then places the decision on them whether or not they want to change. A wise man said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Transition HOPE is that—giving youth space to learn, understand, and make decisions. We all need to provide youth with knowledge and education for them to recognize and move forward when an opportunity is presented.
Heller has been a door that I am proud to walk through, and I look forward to what it will bring.
Four years later, as I enter Heller, a PhD candidate and the Master in Public Policy Economic and Racial Equity Concentration Chair, I get to bring my young people with me. I carry their stories, experiences, and insights into my classes and advising sessions and the space that society has said was not for them and me. I get to bring them. Heller has been a door that I am proud to walk through, and I look forward to what it will bring. My area of research is looking at the opportunity pipelines that have been cut off for those of color. This includes assessing the best evidence-based approaches to yielding equity and hope in our society. Too often, research is done by those who do not look like me. I am excited that as part of my work and journey here at Heller, I get to work alongside some inspirational and courageous women such as Dr. Maria Madison and Professor Anita Hill on changing that narrative. We can build out the next generation and pipeline of researchers and policymakers. So, Transition HOPE in 2022 will enter a new space, and I am excited for what it brings to the young people I serve.
Last but not least! On behalf of everyone at IERE, we wish you warm and happy holidays and look forward to seeing everyone in the new year.
Disclaimer: Posts are solely the views of the author and do not represent the views of Brandeis University or the Institute for Economic and Racial Equity