I believe that finding the mutual sense of respect and humanity in others is the key to realizing any personal or professional accomplishment.
My life perspective is informed by my background growing up in New York City, the daughter of an educator and single parent, and by my experiences as an educator in Louisiana. I attended an elite private high school in New York City on a full scholarship, but it still required sacrifices by my mother to send me to that school, like holding several jobs to supplement her teaching salary and finding transportation to a school more than an hour from my home. It was during these formative years that I realized how many different starting points there are to life. As I became friends with students who shared very different backgrounds than my own, many of whom had more resources than I had, I started to make the connection that income is a major factor in determining life outcomes.
My transition to high school was a challenging one and I struggled academically and socially. However, it was during these years that I also began to realize that education could be the great equalizer in life and that caring, effective teachers and leaders could literally transform lives. Teachers like Geraldine Woods, my ninth grade advisor and English teacher, helped me build the skills and confidence to graduate on time and gain admittance to a competitive college. She challenged me and loved me. What I remember most was the genuine sense of respect she had for my mother during those difficult years, as they partnered closely to help me. It was through seeing their relationship develop and feeling its impact on me that I learned how catalytic meaningful partnerships between educators and families can be.
Now in public office, so much of my work is about understanding a community, listening to people speak about where they are coming from, and then developing ways to work alongside them respectfully to achieve goals. I think having this experience was the foundation for me winning election as a first-time candidate and a trait I work at cultivating as a public servant every day. My favorite quote (from indigenous Australian artist Lilla Watson) reads: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
How has education affected your career?
I was drawn to a career in education because of my personal experiences. I’m the daughter of an educator who raised me as a single parent for my teen years. My mother instilled in me the idea that education was the critical enabler to realizing both my and other’s dreams. High school can predict someone’s entire life trajectory; we can also predict a kindergartener’s chances of life success based on their ZIP code in this country—this needs to change. This is why I work in education.
Has discrimination affected you as a woman in the workplace? How did you deal with it?
As a state-wide policy leader, I am often reminded that people with power are not always aware of how their identities (or the identity of others around them) shift their perspective. In my work, I fight to make sure that the voices and perspectives of underrepresented people—the people directly impacted by new policies—are respected and valued, despite this dynamic.