Education was always emphasized in my family. My paternal grandmother received her bachelor's degree at age 68 and a master's degree five years later. The only words I remember my maternal grandmother telling me were, "You've got to get that education." She said these words over and over again.
I "got that education." At age 19, I put myself through school and received a college education as I mentioned in my previous assignment. I still struggled, however. Education can mean so many different things.
My paternal grandmother died in 2007 at the age of 90. In 1944, when she was 27 years old, she courageously refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on an interstate bus. She was arrested and appealed her case all the way to the Supreme Court where she won. Her case (Morgan v. Virginia) set a course for the famous civil rights Freedom Rides that took place afterwards.
She is famously known for this singular act of defiance but she had it in her to accomplish so much more. She was severely abused by her first husband, my grandfather, and when she remarried it was to an alcoholic who, although was very loving, hampered her ability to thrive.
Confidence is a trait that cannot be emphasized enough as well. It's a trait that can, on one day, be with us and on another leave us altogether. I see girls who, although appear to be very outspoken, struggle to speak up and say "no" when they are mistreated by boys. I see women who have the confidence to manage a project on their job yet lack the confidence to ask for the raise they so well deserve and the raise their male counterparts all receive.
Compounding the issue of confidence are the concrete issues of stark economic inequality in my community. There are so many girls who not only receive a sub par education because they are in a poor neighborhood, they may also struggle to concentrate because they are simply starving. There are thousands of children in New York City alone who are homeless. They may be insecure about their immigration status or the status of their family members.
Children from a higher economic profile often have a nonchalance about them that I wish more children could experience. Their parents may have struggles of their own but at least there is enough food in the kitchen, the heat is working; there is no fear of them losing their home or being deported. It's an ease that comes from knowing you're attending the best schools in the city and that your economic future is also secure.
These are some of the barriers I see many girls in my community face. I hope that in my work I can alleviate some of them. While doing so, I will always remember my grandmother's courage on that fateful day and her potential for all those that followed.