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My Why: Darwin and Opportunity

katie darwin quote

Don’t worry, this isn’t about natural selection. It’s about a boy…named Darwin.

But first, let me digress. As I wrote in a previous BOOST blog, my first teaching experience was in Cameroon. I was 21, no training, no textbooks, incomprehensible American accent. Not surprisingly (but not elegantly), I ended up yelling “I can’t take this &$(@” and stomping out of a room filled with 70 third graders. When I got back to NY, I was sure that teaching was not my talent. So, I worked in affordable housing – spreadsheets, amortizations, loan agreements, tenant meetings – no children. Boy, did I miss them! After 6 months, I was tutoring at a homeless shelter around the corner from my office. After a year, I found a job at a youth organization, where they trained me. (BTW, training works.)

Moving to San Francisco, I got a job as the Rec Coordinator at the Jamestown Community Center in the SF Mission District. That’s where I met Darwin – 10 years old, bright, bubbly, fast as lightning. Unable to sit still for more than 10 minutes, Darwin would do his homework interspersed with laps around the school yard. In between homework and laps, Darwin entertained us with jokes and silly asides, his face breaking open with a big, mischievous grin.

By chance of birth and circumstance, Darwin was in one of the highest poverty, lowest performing schools in San Francisco.

Yet, he was smarter, more naturally gifted, more capable than most of the people I knew growing up in my suburban town. It was so obvious that my Darwin, and every other Darwin, deserves an equal chance to do well.

So, it’s not about natural selection. It’s mostly about random chance and lopsided playing fields. What’s exciting is overcoming that inequity and unfairness. With great programs, committed people and a clear purpose, all kinds of Darwins have the opportunity to succeed. That’s why I do my job.

Breakfast: granola, yogurt and most importantly, coffee.

Author Profile: @katiebrackenridge

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