I had the honor of speaking at our Alumni Induction last weekend. Below are the words I shared with my corps of Milwaukee teachers.
My name is Alex Morgan and I am from the City of Detroit in the great State of Michigan. I know the D as the home of the automobile, the labor movement, and Motown soul. Sadly, it is home to the urban crisis, and is seen as a symbol of the death of our great American cities.
My interest in education stems from Detroit’s story. My story. Detroit is the most segregated metropolitan area in our nation. So much so, that there are literal walls between sections of city and suburb. Beautiful brick pieces that scream “Stop. You’re not wanted here.”
Like many my age, I was born in the city, but never attended Detroit Public Schools. My mother, like many mothers across the city, was scarred by her educational experience, and vowed to never send her son to a DPS school. Instead, she eyed life beyond Alter Road, one of those border streets with the beautiful brick walls. She worked three jobs to vault us over that wall and ensure I went to the best public school district in the state.
Her sacrifice is why I am a teacher. It is why I came to Milwaukee.
Here I teach kindergarten at Malaika Early Learning Center. We serve families with children as early as six weeks old. My kindergarten class is the highest grade in our building. As we say, we plant the seeds, so we can watch them grow for generations. Aside from our day-to-day work in class, I see school selection as my families’ top priority during the year. It is the decision that can either vault their child to success or doom their child to failure.
This year during school selection, I wept as a mom told me about her oldest son who is a junior this year. She desperately wants a better option for him and her other three children. Yet, aside from a few schools with an application process, there are no options for her family and there are no options for our kids.
That moment made me step back and think about where I am in my life. I believe so strongly in our public schools, but I wondered if I would enroll my own child in MPS or DPS or any of the schools we serve including Malaika. It made me sick. It was one of those moments where I just wanted to throw up my hands and give up.
I didn’t quit then, I won’t quit now, and I hope you won’t either. We cannot stop until we have strong public schools for all children.
The best thing we can do as educators or advocates are accept, adjust, and advance. Take a realistic account of the world around us, adjust our goals to combat that reality, and then push ourselves forward. It is what we have done for two years here in Milwaukee. It is what we will continue to do no matter where we go in the months and years ahead of us.
And don’t think that teaching is the only way we can make a difference. As educators, we know the impact of government, legal, medical, and non-profit work in the life of our kids. Advocates in those fields are critical to the just society we seek. Further, we know that mentors can play a huge roll in turning around the attitudes and behaviors of students when they get frustrated with the system.
All of you came here for a reason. Today is the day to look back on these two years and see how this experience shaped your story and your vision for yourself. The work here has been hard, but I hope that when you look at your students that you see greatness. Don’t forget why you came here, don’t forget your cause. You’ve planted the seeds. Now it’s their time to grow and evolve.
Thank you for all you do and all you will continue to do.
I hope to post an update to this blog soon. Until then, have a great Memorial Day weekend.