The Best Ticket Out of Poverty is Education

I’ve lived in Oregon for ten years, but I’ve never felt more comfortable here than I have in the last two months. I realized recently that it’s because I’ve been in my own home, in my neighborhood, only visiting my local parks and grocery stores – the only people I encounter are people I know, who know me. This means they are less likely to feel threatened by me, treat me like I don’t belong, or stare at me wondering what a black woman is doing in “their” community.

Why am I telling you this? It’s because I believe that the injustices we are seeing today – the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and the many other Black lives lost across our country past and present – start in the classroom.

Let me give a few concrete examples of how.

A few years ago, I was at a bill signing ceremony with Gov. Kate Brown at a high school in Eugene. I was standing on the stage talking to colleagues when a student walked up to me and asked if I would take a selfie with him. Afterwards, one of my colleagues asked if I know him. I said no, but I knew why he wanted to get a photo with me.

– It was not because I am a politician.
– It was not because I am a celebrity.
– It was because I am black, and so was he.

If this story surprises you, then you might be sheltered from the effects of Oregon’s lack of representation and diversity in our classrooms. Though, for a state founded with a “whites only” clause in its original constitution, the issue should not surprise anyone.

This kind of thing happens every time I visit a school, no matter where in Oregon I go. While I’m happy to oblige, our students should not be this starved to see themselves in the professionals who walk their halls. Sadly, they are, and we have a long way to go.

Even the fact that Coronavirus is having a disproportionate impact on people of color can be traced back to our classrooms. How? Because the people most likely to be directly impacted by Coronavirus suffer from the conditions that poverty creates. And we know that the best ticket out of poverty is … education.

It’s all connected.

Policing, education, healthcare, housing – each must be mended before we can heal from the effects of racial inequality. If we can treat one, the rest will be stronger for it.

We cannot afford to slide backwards. If we are to protect our future, we must defend our progress.

— Toya Fick