Prior to starting as a Proteus Fund Diversity Fellow, I spent five years in my hometown serving the city that provided me with the platform to become an educated professional of color. In returning to my hometown of New Bedford, Mass., to serve its youth, I saw that the promise of an excellent public school education had been supplanted by an underfunded and lackluster version of my urban school experience.
Where were all of the music programs I benefited from? Was it my older, more discerning eye that had given me a more critical view of the status of urban public schools? It was increasingly difficult to ignore the harsh reality that close to 50 percent of students starting in my local high school’s freshman class would not make it across the graduation stage.
Those were the tensions I was left struggling with during my tenure as the program manager of the SMILES Mentoring program and the tensions I brought with me when starting as a diversity fellow.
My current experiences as a fellow provide me with some answers to these realities faced by our youth. By engaging in broader conversations about public school funding as well as historic racial inequities and their ties to the achievement gap, it has become glaringly clear to me that structural inequities exist and are being perpetuated in our public institutions. I’ve always known that the youth I work with had endless potential, but were being held back by numerous barriers. Through my work at my host site, the Hyams Foundation, and fellowship activities, I’ve broadened my understanding of the plight of low-income youth and potential structural solutions to the current disparities.
Now being equipped with the practical and theoretical knowledge to be change-maker and solution crafter, my hope for myself and my career in philanthropy is to find a powerful pathway to affect positive change and not have youths’ outcomes be negatively predicted by the neighborhood they grow up in.
The fellowship has given me an invaluable opportunity and I hope to continue empowering talented professionals of color who will bring a diversity of viewpoints to grantmaking and become thought leaders in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors.
Marie-Frances Rivera is the 2011-2012 Proteus Fund Diversity Fellow placed at the Hyams Foundation, a member of the Council on Foundations.