Official Blog of the Education Exchange Corps

Sunday, January 25, 2015

BLSA Young Alumni Award: St. Louis Divided by Inequity of Opportunity

Last night, I was honored to receive the Wash U Law BLSA Young Alumni Award because of the work the Education Exchange Corps does with kids in St. Louis. I was asked to say a few words, words which were less eloquent than what I will share with you below. 

The first time I started working with kids in public education was in October 2007. Almost seven years later, in August, the world gazed upon a St. Louis municipality called Ferguson.

Over those seven years, many young people in St. Louis lost their lives.
Over those seven years, many more young people lost opportunity. For many of those young people, it seemed as if opportunity was taken from them from the moment they were born.

It is not an exaggeration to say that St. Louis is a city divided by inequity of opportunity. This division runs deep, and there are many mechanisms that maintain it.

For example, those folks who are not originally from St. Louis are separated out because they can't answer the local question: What high school did you go to?
Those who are from here are separated based on the answer to that question: What high school did you go to?
The answer to the question tells a lot about the person answering, because our divisions are often geographic, and they are based on class, based on race, based on opportunity.

The city is even designed in a way to keep people separated. The highway system we have here is great for getting folks from one place to another really quickly, but it also helps us avoid certain parts of the city. This avoidance is easy, and so the divisions are easier to maintain.

This story is not unique to St. Louis. We see it all over America.
This is our home. It will be our children's home and our grandchildren's home. For every generation that grows up in a divided America, we will see a further degeneration of what America is supposed to be about: Opportunity for everyone.

But it doesn't have to be that way. There is a way forward, and that way forward starts with us caring more about our children than our comfort.

I have seen what happens when kids have real opportunity. I have seen what happens when kids from one community meet kids from another. I have seen what happens when adults care about kids - kids start to care about themselves. And I have seen what happens when no one cares.

I invite you to care. I invite you to help organizations like BLSA support kids with scholarships so that kids will have greater opportunity when they are applying for college. And for those who want to engage further, even for those who are very busy, the few minutes you have to give to a kid can make a world of difference.

We can't sit around anymore, or those seven years will again turn into another seven, and there will surely be seven more to follow.

Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps

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