Sharing the speech I gave at TeenSHARP’s opening ceremony last week:
Good afternoon! Thank you everyone for being here today, to celebrate such an impressive group of students. Before I discuss the plans for this year and all that we have in store, I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on why we are all here in the first place. Why does TeenSHARP exist and why is this organization such a necessity, not only for students, but for the community, the state, and ultimately the nation?
Primarily, TeenSHARP exists to combat “educational inequities” that affect students of color. For example, only 14% of high achieving high schoolers in Delaware are attending colleges that match their academic potential. Among those who are low income, 30% aren’t going anywhere after high school.
Directly correlated with this, are the economic reports that forecast by 2020, 30% percent of jobs in Delaware will require a Bachelor’s degree. But only 21% of African Americans and 15% of Latinos are currently equipped with such a credential. These barriers to quality education, and meaningful, high paying employment will persist if we don’t help our students gain admission into top universities that also meet 100% of financial need.
But this is half the battle. TeenSHARP also exists because we see the capabilities of young people being vastly underutilized. In our presentations and discussions, you’ve heard us talk about the importance of authentic youth empowerment. And when it comes to education policy, we know that young people are the biggest stakeholders and deserve a seat at the table. Part of our job is to encourage our students to think critically and question their surroundings, embrace leadership roles, utilize their voices and be unafraid to challenge the injustices they see.
Over the course of this year, we’ll talk extensively about racial injustice, in and outside the realm of education. We’ll discuss terms like “affirmative action” and “micro-aggressions”, terminology that is paramount to shaping your understanding of our current society.
The other day I argued with one of my friends because he had said that what America needs is a gradual revolution against racial inequality. I reject that claim because, as the black lives matter movement crescendos, in the thralls of police brutality, and as we continue to practice civil disobedience only to be met with inaction, “gradual” is not an option anymore.
In TeenSHARP, time is precious and we move with a sense of urgency. The stakes (in this case our students’ outcomes and their roles as future leaders) are too high to wait for policies and laws to tell us things need to change. President Johnson wrote in his commencement address at Howard University, that much of the black community “is buried under a blanket of history and circumstance. It is not a lasting solution to lift just one corner of that blanket. We must stand on all sides and raise the entire cover” if we are to be successful.
TeenSHARP is so much more than just a college prep program and we pledge to do our best to help lift every corner. But in no way do we do it alone. We may have grass roots but these roots are thriving and multiplying. As Tatiana mentioned, we have more volunteers than ever before and I’d like to take a moment to have TeenSHARP staff, instructors, mentors, advisors, tutors, and all other volunteers stand and be recognized.
Students, in addition to your parents, these are your advocates and your teammates. This year, all of us have worked together to provide you with the following opportunities:
-Admission officers from Wesleyan, Williams, Washington University, and several others will be coming to meet you as well as Governor Markell
-We will be hosting a panel on leading change in the community as well as one on careers in healthcare, pharmacy, and philanthropy
-We are organizing several days of service and an internship fair, and we have college tours planned for Lehigh University, Lafayette College, Haverford, UPenn, and a two-day trip to Boston U, Harvard, Tufts, and MIT
-Parents, we are also coordinating workshops for you throughout the year and we hope that you will participate in as many as you can
So this year, I challenge you to take full advantage of these opportunities and this network of champions available to you. Breach your comfort zones and inspire others in the process. And most of all know that everyone in this room is invested in your success.
Nothing is gradual about TeenSHARP, but we’re certainly revolutionary. And I am proud to be at the forefront with such impactful leaders.