The majority of us woke up on Monday pleading to have one more day of summer. We didn’t want to hear a professor telling us about the 10 to 20 page research paper due at the end of the semester. For some of us, all we could think about was not having class this upcoming Monday for Labor Day.
I understand this sentiment wholeheartedly. I had a great summer spending time with family and friends, and I had an awesome fellowship here in Washington, D.C. at the Campaign for Youth Justice, an organization aimed at ending the trying, sentencing and incarceration of youth under 18 in the adult criminal justice system. Just like most of you, I was not ready for school to begin.
However, we are one lucky group of individuals because we are here!
There are some young people who wish they could trade places with us regardless of how awful we think our lives are because they see education as their tool to a greater future.
So as you begin this semester, think about the young person who had to drop out of school because he or she could not afford it. Or, think about the young person who wanted to shop for items for his or her dorm but couldn’t because the money was needed to help a single parent with the bills and to provide food for siblings. Think about the young people who are receiving a horrible public education in urban cities across our country and will never be prepared to attend a school like AU.
As you think, talk about states like Mississippi, where a school district had the “school-to-prison” pipeline, a dreadful, national practice of moving students out of public schools and into the criminal justice system. Most of the students being funneled out have learning disabilities and histories of abuse, poverty, exposure to violence and neglect. Instead of schools helping them, they punish them and send them into the system. Most of these kids, once in the system, will never see a college classroom. Because once you are in the criminal justice system, it is extremely difficult to break loose from it.
As you talk, find some way this semester where you will be able to take action against these injustices that prevent people from receiving a college education. Injustices like college affordability, poverty, racism, unnecessary incarceration and broken segments of the public education system.
This semester, even with our busy schedules, I want AU students to think about, talk about and act upon issues that are greater than ourselves and greater than the bubble we may live in.
There are people who are desperately willingly to trade shoes with us and be sitting in a college classroom.
Let’s not trade shoes with them. Let’s make it so they can wear the same ones.
Deon Jones is a junior in SPA, an advisory neighborhood commissioner representing AU students and a national spokesman for the Campaign for Youth Justice.