I believe that the American Dream is still possible in 2019 and beyond. I am the daughter of an amazing woman who birthed me when she was a teenager in Jamaica, West Indies. My family was so poor, I was born in a place without roads; it was just referred to as “Gully.” My father wasn’t home often; he was either off doing seasonal work as a waiter at one of the hotels in Montego Bay, or helping my grandfather who owned a farm.
Shortly after my birth, my mother vowed to create a better life for herself and her children. When I was a baby, my mother emigrated to the USA. She worked three jobs to be able to save enough money to sponsor her husband, my father. They entrusted the care of my sister and I to my father’s mother. I was almost six years old before I saw my mother again. I’ll never forget the night we arrived in Boston, at Logan Airport. It was so cold, and I remember looking out the Pan Am plane’s window. That was the first time I had ever seen snow.
We were lucky. My mother’s employer agreed to pay for one year of private school for my sister and myself. After that, we were on our own, and had to work hard and academically excel in order to earn scholarships. I remember my mother telling us, “It’s up to you. Either sink or swim, so you better learn to swim.” I struggled with learning to read. I remember being pulled from English class to sit with a volunteer tutor in the library and painstakingly learning to read with fluency and fluidly. Coupled with being one of two black students, and not rich, there were times when I wasn’t sure I could bear the stress. What saved me was a strong belief in God, and the promise that if I worked hard, and did well, we would have a better life. This was my American dream.
Fast forward, I did well academically and graduated from an elite high school and Wellesley College. I continued my education and completed law school and even earned an MBA. Life seemed laid out for me, but I never forgot where I came from. I wanted to help the poor, particularly women and children. After a stint working as an Assistant District Attorney in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, I worked as an attorney for our state’s child protective services agency. During that time, I discovered that many of the clients were trapped in a vicious cycle of undiagnosed learning disabilities that led to poor academic performance. Because they did not do well in school, these young people oftentimes declared, “I don’t like school.” That became their reason to drop out, or not pursue higher education or training programs. Oftentimes, this feeling of despair coupled with early-life traumas led them into drug use and abusive relationships. Children born of these relationships sometimes were abused or neglected by their impaired parents, and came into child protective services for care. Unfortunately, some of these children and youth also experienced academic challenges, as well as further abuse and the cycle continued. I vowed to do something to end the cycle.
I transitioned from the practice of law to education, and have worked as a middle school English teacher for nearly two decades. I have been privileged to work with students with learning disabilities and who were second language learners. During that time, I observed that my students would graduate from high school, but many lacked access to job training and technical skills. Being underskilled oftentimes trapped them into a cycle of poverty. That is when I met John Durocher, EVP, CSG Americas for Salesforce.com. John and I discussed how we might provide greater opportunity for Boston students and their parents. He and I co-founded Positively Impacting Teens and Parents (Pi-TaP). Pi-TaP's mission is to fight poverty, prevent homelessness and displacement by providing mothers and teenage children with hands-on technical, job readiness as well as soft skills so they can embark on careers in high tech, entrepreneurship or other technology-based fields. Specifically, we train our participants in Salesforce software, utilizing volunteers from the Ohana to co-teach Modules or badges through Trailhead. Our program is 8 months of academics and soft skills, 2 months internship in nonprofit and for profit environments, with job placement support for 24 additional months. We meet at the Dewitt Center in Boston, which is at the heart of our urban district.
I believe in the American Dream, and working with Salesforce, and teaching Trailhead, is helping mothers and teenagers to have a chance to also live this dream. Thank you John, and all of those in the Ohana for making it possible to change lives.