As an organization founded and rooted in the Twin Cities, we grieve the loss of George Floyd. We hear the cries of our community and share in its pain. We join with the Floyd family in demanding that justice be served and for an end to bigotry and injustice that has no place in a civilized society. We struggle to make sense of this tragedy just as we struggled to make sense of the countless other lives of color lost through acts of hatred and violence.
This month, I turn 47, which makes George Floyd and me about the same age. Like me, he was a father, a son and a brother. Like too many African American men, George was forced to contend with the effects of compounding inequality and became a casualty of an environment where systemic racism is a not just a legacy ‒ but a reality.
Just as the COVID-19 crisis has exposed fault lines present long before the pandemic, overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and anger were laid bare when a single act of violence became emblematic of the experiences that far too many of us still have in our lives and communities.
But in healing, there is hope ‒ and in recovery, there is opportunity. Will our recovery from the pandemic turn the tide on the widening wage and economic inequality that typified the decade that followed the Great Recession? Will our response to a senseless murder heighten the sense of urgency with which we work to address the inequality that defines the lives of students? Will we have the will and the power to create a new reality?
We ask these questions because we have no interest in returning to a “new normal.” Rather, we seek a new way forward that will offer more hope and promise than ever before.
In recent weeks, Americans without college degrees were among the first displaced from jobs. And if history is a guide, they will likely be among the last hired. Recall that of the 7.1 million net jobs lost during the Great Recession, nearly all were occupied by workers holding less than a bachelor’s degree. The middle class shrunk, as the top 1% of Americans captured 85% of income growth.
Those statistics were manifest in the emotions that boiled over in Minneapolis following George Floyd’s murder. But they are especially troubling in an era where endemic educational inequity means that students of color and those from low income backgrounds not only attend college at far lower rates than their white or affluent peers ‒ they are far less likely to graduate. Black students, and Black men in particular, are not being served by our country’s K-12 and higher education systems.
Against the tragic backdrop of a nation in need of healing, I take solace in knowing that our work is bending the arc of human potential. I am comforted because I know that our conversations and coaching inspire both action and outcomes. We are helping students make sense of the senseless, as they navigate a system that holds limitless opportunity ‒ but is often stacked against them.
We do this work because we know that just as one man’s murder can spark a tinderbox of anger, a single act of support and encouragement can forever alter the trajectory of the students we serve ‒ and send ripples of hope across our nation.
We provide not just advice on where and how to apply to college, we stay connected with our students because we know that impostor syndrome, food insecurity, and other challenges can deter them from fulfilling their goals. We are now beginning to ask how we can help students discover their passion, purpose, and plan toward exploring career opportunities in pursuit of a life of economic mobility.
Last week, we came together as an organization for a town hall meeting with the goal of listening, learning and articulating our shared emotions. These painful moments are a heart-wrenching reminder of the journey that many in our communities and in our country have had to endure, and the long road ahead that continues. They remind us that our work exists within a broader social justice movement, and that our responsibility extends to both the individuals we serve ‒ and the systems that influence our collective behavior.
Recent events are a lot to process for us as an organization, and as individuals. But we must do so now even more thoughtfully and honestly than ever before as we acknowledge the present (and past) conditions in which we live, work and strive to coexist in order to build a better tomorrow for future generations. Together, we can ensure that this is not merely a moment, but a movement to build a nation of leaders who will drive and sustain the change that we so sorely need.
As we navigate through this double pandemic that affects our mental and physical health, we do so accepting that we have an even greater role to play than before. We take our responsibility seriously as we strive to open the doors to educational and economic success so that more students ‒ and by extension their families and communities ‒ can live a life of choice and opportunity. Our work continues and is more important now than ever before.
President, College Possible