Voices from See Us, Support Us:
Author of Teen Guide to Living With Incarcerated Parents
Sophomore at USC
Pursuing a Dramatic Arts major and Cinematic Arts minor
One of the most vivid memories I have of high school is sitting in the career center. And by the beginning of my senior year, I practically lived there. No, seriously. It was almost disturbing. I remember spending every lunch period in front of a black Y2K computer like it was my job. I applied to about 18 colleges that year. Many of my peers thought I was absolutely insane for applying to that many schools and maybe they were right. A great philosopher once said that no great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness. The way I saw it, why would I have limited myself to a small pool of colleges when there were plenty of other options I had a chance at getting into? I willingly prepared 18 different applications. I submitted at least 2 everyday of my Winter break. At my high school, colleges we applied to were put into three distinct categories: safety, target, and reach. Safety schools were the ones we 100% knew we would get accepted to. Target schools were ones we have a pretty good shot at. And reach schools are the ones we are unlikely to get into. My list included, but was not limited to, schools like UC Berkeley, UCLA, New York University, Stanford, University of Southern California, Harvard, Brown, University of Chicago. It’s sad to say I had people in my school telling me that the goals I was reaching for were unrealistic and far fetched. I’ve had teachers, adults that are supposed to lift you up in high school, tell me that the colleges I was applying to were a “reach”. In other words, that it was foolish of me to believe I had a shot at getting into the very good schools on my list (and there were many).
I remember being in the career center breaking down my list of targets, reaches, and safety schools. My safeties were schools like Hofstra University, Towson University, and Dominican University of California. My targets were schools like University of Southern California, UCLA, NYU. And my “reach” schools were the Ivy Leagues I applied to. When I shared this with my college and career coordinator, she told me that my target schools weren’t targets at all… and that they were actually “reach” schools. Mind you, I was well aware that my target schools had acceptance rates below 20 percent but that wasn’t going to stop me. With my good grades and everything I was doing in and outside of school, I knew I still had a fair shot of getting in. However, at that moment, I was given the impression that all the hard work I’d put in for four consecutive years (along with the countless all-nighters I had to pull) were futile because I was still “reaching”. I’m here to tell you that your goals, no matter how big or small, are not unattainable. As long as you set your mind on what you believe you can accomplish, no one can tell you what can and cannot be done. That is entirely up to YOU. Not the people in the back.
The greatest lies are the ones we tell ourselves. As the child of an incarcerated parent, I feel the reason so many believe that children of incarcerated parents are more likely to be incarcerated is that they want these children to believe it too. And if young people grow up hearing this false narrative about how their life is meant to go, they may just buy into it. This is one of the factors that goes into generational incarceration. It is not because these children are inherently bad, it is because they go into an education system that plants this false narrative in their minds making them believe they are less likely to succeed because of their circumstances. I know this because I was one of those kids that bought into the lies. If it weren’t for my family always pushing me to go above and beyond, I don’t know where I’d be today. I am blessed to be going through my second year at the University of Southern California and extremely fortunate to have the support system that I do now. It wasn’t until after I published my first book, Teen Guide to Living With Incarcerated Parents, that I found outside support from organizations like The Osborne Association, ScholarCHIPS, WeGotUsNow, and INCCIP. These are the people that are truly dedicated to seeing young people succeed. Now, just imagine if schools across the country could implement these kinds of programs into their establishments. Programs that have adults working closely and attentively with kids like me to empower them and help them reach their goals. Programs that give us a platform to speak out and take action against social injustice. Now stop imagining and let’s make it happen!