A Brighter Future For Fort Worth
by Yolanda Seban
I had the odds stacked against me. The truth of the matter is that a single Black mother with four kids who has survived two abusive marriages isn’t supposed to get here. Coming from a lower socioeconomic status means people usually assume that you’re too dumb to matter, too stupid to realize, or too uneducated to understand. Mothers like us, who grew up in the poorest neighborhoods of South Dallas, don’t always get to be at the forefront of a movement that gives other parents the opportunities and choices our mothers never had. But as I stood in front of the Texas State Board of Education, two hours into Rocketship’s charter petition hearing, after all the niceties melted away and the board members began talking down to us low-income parents as expected, I held my ground. I stood there, in that moment, fighting for better options for my kids and other kids like me because we, too, deserve the best public education out there.
I grew up without a lot of money but with a mom who fought for me to have options. Even though we were enrolled in the local “hood” public schools, my mom made sure we went to school on time every day and did our work. Mom made it clear to us that what was outside of our door was not us, and that we had to work hard to fight the limitations put on us by virtue of where we lived. I fought to open Rocketship Texas because I want my kids to have the opportunities I didn’t.
I know what many mothers in Fort Worth go through to provide shelter for their kids and put food on the table. I’ve been through shelters and community housing programs and on the receiving end of public services, so I know the difference between well-intentioned organizations with prescriptive approaches that only solve the symptoms of community problems, not the roots – and those that truly serve the needs of our community by listening to our needs, treating us as equals, and showing us the dignity and respect we deserve.
When I attended the first parent organizing meeting for Rocketship Texas in 2019, I was immediately struck by the fact that the Rocketship educators were asking community members the right questions. They genuinely wanted to hear from the community. They get it. And that is why I kept going to meetings after that. Folks from Rocketship never treated us like we were ignorant or “didn’t know any better” – we were given an equal voice at the table and the opportunity to shape what Rocketship Texas would look like. And at the State Board hearing, I was given the chance to fiercely advocate for a great public school option for my kids and hundreds of other kids in Fort Worth.
In the neighborhood where I grew up, a lot of kids felt like they had to be tough to survive and would pick fights with other kids, but all I wanted to do was dance ballet and read out loud in English class because I love poetry. My interests were inaccessible for someone like me at my local public school, so my mom enrolled me in ballet, dance, and other classes at a local community college to enrich my learning. Because of this experience, Rocketship’s commitment to providing low-income kids of color with enrichment opportunities in the arts, STEM, and beyond really speaks to me. I want all the kids who look like me to be able to lean into their interests and passions at school, and never feel the way I did – an outcast and unchallenged, keenly aware of the differences between my zip code and wealthier zip codes. It is so important for all kids, especially kids of color, to have the opportunity to explore robust enrichment options. After all, it was ballet and dance that provided me with the opportunity to venture out into the world, dancing professionally at the outset of my career.
I sincerely wish my mother would have had an option such as Rocketship when my brothers and I were growing up. She tried her best to give us the chance to grow beyond the limits our school districts placed on us as young Black kids, but did so without the school choice options that exist today. This is why I am excited about organizing with Rocketship, because if we had a Rocketship growing up, my mom would not have had to work twice as hard to raise young boys without fathers into being men or to fight with my school to be tested for a learning disability. She would have had options, and my siblings and I would have had a school that provided the same enrichment opportunities afforded to richer kids at their own schools in richer zip codes. Every neighborhood deserves a Rocketship, a place where parents are given a voice and real input in shaping what their child’s educational journey will look like.
As you all enter this school year, I hope you do so with the same care and compassion that I experienced at those very first Rocketship Texas meetings I attended in 2019. These meetings created a space of non-judgment and acceptance for parents such as myself, and I know that, together, we can build a brighter future for thousands of other families for years to come. Rocketship Fort Worth schools are opening in August 2022, and I am so excited for my kids to have the chance to attend.
Yolanda Seban is a parent leader in Fort Worth, Texas.
Published on August 20, 2021