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STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.
Education

Education and the inequality of opportunity

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I’m new to State of Opportunity. Before I begin writing regular posts I want to tell you a little bit about myself. It isn’t very often that readers get a glimpse into the personal lives of reporters.

My personal narrative in part explains why issues like those we explore in State of Opportunity are so important.

I was raised in what is quickly becoming the typical American family. My mother provided for my sister and me through working as a secretary and monthly child support payments.

Back home in Saginaw, MI, it’s more likely that a young man of color, like myself, will end up in prison than graduate from high school. In fact, Saginaw has consistently been named one of the most violent cities in America.

According to the numbers, I’m not supposed to be here.

Growing up, I believed in equality of opportunity. My grandfather was a Mexican immigrant who moved to United States at the age of two. He moved to Michigan in 1966, and later that year started work as a millwright for General Motors. Even with a third grade education and broken English, he still managed to provide for my grandmother and their ten children.

My grandfather’s story combined with the rhetoric of hard work, success, and strong family values made it easy for me to adopt a strong individual responsibility framework.

Unfortunately, the America my grandfather lived in is not the America I inherited. In today’s America, economic mobility and educational attainment go hand-in-hand.

My mother knew this and consequently enrolled me into one of the top magnet schools in the state, with a diverse student body and a low teacher-to-student ratio. Of the thirty-two students in my graduating class, seven of us went on to attend the University of Michigan. I didn’t understand the impact of this decision at the time, but as I’ve grown older I’ve realized that it has made all the difference.

Recent studies show that class inequality is growing at an alarming rate, and that the American dream is becoming harder to obtain. Yet, the research of scholars depicting our dire state seems to have been ignored; voices of Michigan residents asking for help seem to have gone unanswered; cries of children seem to have fallen on deaf ears. I joined State of Opportunity because I’m interested in listening to those affected by structural inequalities and shedding light on their experiences.

We have a long way to go before opportunity is equitable for every child in Michigan. I hope that through sharing my experiences and the experiences of others, I can paint a more complete picture of what poverty looks like, right here in Michigan.

Stay tuned to State of Opportunity as the other reporters reflect on their own experiences and talk about the most difficult challenges facing Michigan today.

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