STUDENTS | March 3, 2021
By Brianna N., senior at Jones College Prep
Carlotta LaNier comes to mind when I think about people who inspire me. As the youngest member of the Little Rock Nine, she had to endure being bullied, spat on, and ignored just to receive an education.
I read her biography for the first time in seventh or eighth grade, and what has stuck with me through the years is this—when she reflected on all that she had endured, she said the worst people that she encountered were not the people who were spitting on her, but rather the people who acted as if they saw nothing.
This past June, our society was reminded yet again how it fails to protect Black lives. Some people responded by taking action and proudly proclaiming that Black lives matter. And some people acted as if they saw nothing.
I got working. A conversation with my mentor about the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) community at my school turned into conversations with grassroots leaders and led me to connect with the CPS Office of Equity.
From there, I assembled a team of my friends, peers and some of my teachers to help inform new district policies. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished this year—from helping redesign the district’s Multicultural Education and Diversity Policy to working with the Office of Social and Emotional Learning to develop new racial incident guidance.
What I will take away from this work more than anything else is the conversations that were had. I had never really taken on a leadership role like this before, so coming to a table full of adults who have more experience than I do and have them listen to what I had to share with open ears was very encouraging.
I’m glad that I got to make an impact in this way because this is my final year as a CPS student. My CPS experience can sort of be summed up as living in two different worlds, which I think gives me the ability to understand different points of view when examining policy.
I am a proud graduate of Harvard School of Excellence on the South Side, which is only a single train ride away from Jones College Prep, where I will graduate from in a few months. In my mind, these schools could not be more different, something I realized pretty quickly when I started at Jones.
The culture shock hit me in both big and small ways. I didn’t realize that not everyone had needed to spend a lot of time outside of the classroom preparing and studying to test into a selective school like Jones. Many of my peers came from schools that sent dozens of students to selective enrollment schools every year; I was the top of my class and one of a few. And some of my peers couldn’t believe that I had never been to a 7-Eleven before high school.
As a senior, I can confidently say that Jones was the school that was right for me. But, as a freshman, I definitely struggled with insecurities and not knowing if I belonged there or not. That makes me think about how I ended up at Jones to begin with.
In eighth grade, Harvard had a high school fair where representatives from different schools (mostly neighborhood schools on the South Side) would come and share information to help us determine where we wanted to attend the following year. Looking back, I wish more high schools would have been present to help us understand all of our options.
Jones wasn’t even on my radar at that point, and the only reason it ended up being my top choice was because I went to their open house to take pictures on behalf of a friend who couldn’t go. I literally stumbled upon my dream high school by accident.
There are many investments I’d like to see made in the district. I’d love to see Harvard get a world language program and a larger library. But one thing that I think is important for schools across the city is providing resources to help elementary students see that attending a top high school is within their reach regardless of the neighborhood they live in.
And the work shouldn’t stop there. I want every student of color who has felt out of place at a selective enrollment high school to know that just because you’ve been given the opportunity to attend does not mean you cannot push for changes that will make that school even more equitable for all students.
Sometimes you won’t know the best way to get your voice heard right away, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t voice your concerns. Put yourself out there when you can, so that when you are a senior, you can look back on your CPS journey and know that you made a difference for the students who will follow in your footsteps.
Brianna N. says that reading has been one her go-to activities during the pandemic, as well as the occasional FaceTime with a friend. A lifelong Chicagoan, she’s hoping to spread her wings for college and is looking to major in business.