When you grow up poor, it sometimes feels like the deck is stacked against you.
It can be hard for kids to find the right role models, so when you see someone from your community make it the right way, that’s something to celebrate. That’s how I feel about President Obama’s new appointee as Secretary of Education, John King. Dr. King’s personal story shows how a kid can go from a Canarsie public school into the President's Cabinet.
(More coverage at The Seventy Four: 4 Things to Know About the New Education Secretary; Inside John King’s NYC common core battles)
Dr. King served as New York State Education Commissioner, and he fought to make sure kids in every neighborhood are taught with the same high standards. I first met John King when he came to a town hall at Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It was clear that Dr. King really cared about what parents like me had to say. He sat through the hours-long meeting and really listened. He understood what our kids were going through and wanted our kids to have access to opportunity.
When I was growing up, kids just got lost in the system and I was cheated out of a proper education. Back then, you only needed an 8th grade reading level to graduate from high school. No one expected me to go to college.
Now, based on the example of a little boy from a Canarsie public school, I can set my hopes for my grandchildren as high as the president's cabinet.
I have seven grandchildren who are all either current or future New York City public school students at schools, including Tilden High School, John Jay High School and P.S. 328.
I see how engaged and invested parents are in these schools, yet there never seems to be any progress. Even though I’m active in their schools and stay on top of their schooling, it’s not enough.
Our public school system is failing my grandchildren and denying them access to opportunities in life. We need education leaders who will work on turning around failing schools and give me and my neighbors better public school options – so that our children aren't denied the opportunities they deserve.
What John King gave us as state education commissioner was hope. He had the courage to stand up for kids in the face of extreme pressure – he fought for higher standards and expanded school choice. He took the punches for our kids because he knew the stakes firsthand.
With him now in charge of the system, we knew there was a leader fighting for our kids.
I am so proud that he has been named U.S. Secretary of Education because I know he will fight just as hard for kids across the country.