On November 30th, our allies in Arkansas gathered for the Arkansas Opportunity to Learn Summit, a fantastic weekend of trainings, workshops and networking for organizers and advocates. One of the many highlights of the event was reading essays by the winners of the summit's student essay contest, who wrote in answer to the prompt "Why an Opportunity to Learn is important to me."
We can't stress enough how much we appreciate our youth allies. They're the ones in the classroom, after all. To see them fighting for the resources they and their classmates need to succeed couldn't be more inspiring. So hats off Salonica Hunter, Zipporah Bell and Zaria McCants, the three winners. Read their essays below!
And read about the rest of the summit here!
Salonica Hunter – Winner, Age 14-17 Category
Two hundred years ago, my place in society would have been that of an illiterate slave girl, cooking, cleaning, and bearing children for my "master." If I was to be caught in the process of educating myself, I would be severely punished. One hundred years ago, benighted people would have been my only example of who I could one day become. Fifty years ago, I would have had to attend a segregated school and use raggedy learning materials in order to receive basic knowledge on reading, writing, and mathematics, if I could be afforded this privilege. Today, if I didn't' have the opportunity to learn, I wouldn't dare dream of chasing a career that would enable me to climb the professional ladder as an African-American Arkansan contributing to the Southern, agricultural-based society.
An opportunity for a good education is very important because i have goals that I desire to achieve and without that opportunity, I would have to settle for a low-class lifestyle, scraping from paycheck to paycheck. According to Fight Poverty, Doors to Diplomacy Web Project, statistics today show "nationally, 43% of people the lowest literacy skills live in poverty, 17% receive food stamps, and 70% have no job or part-time job." I refuse to be a statistic. There are so many opportunities to acquire a good education like college scholarships, state grants, and programs like Job Corp. I can use them to better myself and so can others do the same, no matter what predicament they are in. Without those opportunities, my aspirations would stay what they were – just dreams.
When I was younger, people asked me the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Today, I can proudly say that I plan to pursue a bachelor's degree in Business Administration and a Juris Doctorate in Civil Litigation serving as a defense attorney in the state of Arkansas. I have a fighting chance to grasp the quality life I dream of. Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of this nation, said, "An honest heart being the first blessing, a knowing head is the second." Therefore, I appreciate that now those blessings are easily accessible for me and with them, I have the tools to crop my own pictures into this society.
Zipporah Bell – Winner, Age 11-13 Category
An opportunity to learn is often taken for granted and tossed away into the category of "Just-Another-Privilege." However, in numerous ways, this opportunity is important to me. For instance, I am currently an 8th grader at Monticello Middle School. I live in Southeast Arkansas. The education statistics for 8th grade writing is at 19%. Shocking? This is just one example of our low percentages in the education department in Arkansas. However, I want to be able to be a role model in my community by using the opportunities available to me in order to excel in my intelligence. I know that all things are possible if you believe and try your hardest; you can do anything in whatever momentary situation you may be in.
Education will always be a part of my life. As an African-American girls, the legacy of my ancestors proved to be one of suffering and fighting for the cause of education, the same cause that is now neglected. In reference to the national education system, integration/de-segregation didn't happen in school until 1958. Only fifty-four years ago, this change was a giant step towards intellectual empowerment for African-Americans. That is why one of my favorite African-American role models is the Little Rock Central Nine. They are very dear to me because their movement happened in Arkansas, the state where I live. They inspired me to refuse to waste my opportunity to have a better life, instead of being in bondage. This bondage is when a person is mentally in prison because they aren't aware of everything offered in this world, because they lack the education to understand this. I refuse to be mentally "locked-up."
I will always choose to take advantage of my opportunity to learn because my life depends on it and so do the lives of the many generations to come. As Mahatma Ghandi said, "Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever."
Zaria McCants – Winner, Age 8-10 Category
An opportunity to learn is important to me because it increases my chance to go to college, provide me with a solid foundation, and a good education is for everyone.
A good education will prepare me to go to college. I think I want to be a veterinarian or the President of the United States. I will need to learn a lot and go to college for a long time.
In school we need to learn the 3 R's (reading, writing, and math). We also learn social skills to help us in the real world. We volunteer in our community to share what we have learned and to learn from others. This provides me with a foundation to build my future.
Everyone should have the same chance to get a quality education. Persons with disabilities deserve the same education as everyone else. Some people need glasses like me or some people may need technology to help them learn.
The opportunity to learn to me means I will get the tools I need to be helpful to my community and successful in my life!!!