Paving the Road to Equity: A Journey through African American HERstory

Vernon Jordan, a prominent figure in the civil rights movement and an advisor to President Clinton, once said, “You are where you are today because you stand on somebody’s shoulders. And wherever you are heading, you cannot get there by yourself. If you stand on the shoulders of others, you have a reciprocal responsibility to live your life so that others may stand on your shoulders. It’s the quid pro quo of life. We exist temporarily through what we take, but we live forever through what we give.” My college access journey began far before my own two feet walked the campus of Michigan State University. The pages of my story were written before I had the ability to conceptualize postsecondary education.

I stand on the shoulders of women who come from a rich lineage of beauty in the midst of pain, struggle, and breakthrough. These women embodied strength in the midst of weakness, trials, and barriers that were meant to deter their path, but still, they were able to rise. Their leaves never withered, their flowers forever bloomed, and their labor produced an excess of fruit. These women are Black HERstory.

Trailblazers such as Lucy Sessions, Mary Jane Patterson, and Rebecca Crumpler shifted what college access means for African American women.. Lucy Sessions was the first African American woman to earn a literacy degree in 1850. She defeated odds and began to dismantle chairs of oppression as she received her degree fifteen years before slavery was abolished. Mary Jane Patterson was the first African American woman to earn a Bachelors of Arts in 1862, three years before slavery was abolished. Rebecca Crumpler was the first African American woman to earn a Medical Degree in 1864. Each of these women planted seeds for young women of color to pursue postsecondary education in the midst of one of the most terrifying times in African American History.

African American trailblazers within education that have directly impacted my pursuit of postsecondary education are Marrietta Drew and Rosemary Higgins. Marrietta Drew, also known as Ma Dear, was my maternal grandmother. She was born in Louisiana in 1921. During the time that Ma Dear was of age to complete primary and secondary schooling, the highest level for African American students in her county was middle school. Ma Dear had a love for education that caused her to continue to go back to school even after she fulfilled the requirements that were necessary. She went back to school 2-3 times despite completing schooling because her love for education allowed her to find beauty in learning new information as the curriculums of the school systems evolved. My grandmother’s desire to pursue education but inability to do so due to racial prejudice motivated me to push past barriers and pursue my passion for service, literature, and advocacy.

Rosemary Higgins was my middle school counselor at Ivan Ludington Middle School on the Westside of Detroit. She played a pivotal role in my college access story by providing my family with resources to help me prepare for the high school placement examination for competitive Schools of Choice in Detroit. She also worked with my parents to fill out the application for the Wade McCree Scholarship and the Detroit College Promise Scholarship. Both scholarships paid for tuition for a 2 to 4-year college for students interested in pursuing postsecondary education in Michigan. This opportunity made college more of a reality for me, it held me accountable. I was thankful that my city believed in me enough to invest in my college education.

The stories of the women in my life have continued the trail of perseverance that Lucy Sessions, Mary Jane Patterson and Rebecca Crumpler started. Their desire to create roads where there was no pavement and climb mountains that often appeared to be unbearable has birthed my desire to help other young people fulfill their postsecondary goals as well. As a first-generation college student, I am thankful for the shoulders that I stand on and the brave women that endured so that I could have the opportunity to pursue an education as well. Our mission at Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) is to increase college readiness, participation, and completion in Michigan, particularly among low-income students, first-generation college-going students, and students of color. The women that came before me kept their eyes on their objective, understanding the roads of equity that still needed to be paved for students of all backgrounds to have access to postsecondary education.

Author: Shavonna Green
Posted: Feb. 26, 2019

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