buildOn Celebrates Black History Month

Every year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day of service for buildOn staff (photographed above from left to right: Rashya Edwards, Jhakiema Hendrickson, and Carolyn Roach). This year, joined by buildOn students, alumni, and corporate partners, our Bridgeport team dedicated themselves to care packages to donate to Brooks Street Family Shelter––an example of the power of solidarity and service to uplift our communities and build tomorrow’s leaders.

Imagining What’s Possible in an Equitable World

When children are given the opportunity to dream and explore and thrive, we all benefit. 

Born in 1956 to an elementary school teacher mother and maintenance supervisor father, Mae Jemison knew from an early age that she wanted to pursue a career in science. Thirty-six years later she made history as the first African American woman to travel in space, and today, she continues to inspire the world as an outspoken advocate for science, technology, and social change. 

Mae’s story is an inspiring example of what’s possible when children are given the opportunity to explore their potential. But sadly, due to systemic racism and inequities in our school systems, too many children lack the resources necessary to make their dreams a reality.

We look at science as something very elite, which only a few people can learn. That’s just not true. You just have to start early and give kids a foundation. Kids live up, or down, to expectations.

Mae Jemison

According to a 2017 study by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, when Black primary-school students are taught by a teacher of the same race, they perform better on standardized tests. The study also found that assigning a Black male student to a Black male teacher in the third, fourth, or fifth grades “significantly reduces the probability that he drops out of high school, particularly among the most economically disadvantaged Black males.”

But what happens when a child doesn’t have a role model or a mentor who looks like them? If we want more Black teachers, we need to support and embrace diversity and equity in the next generation of educators. But how do we break a cycle of inequity and create a new cycle of opportunity and inclusion? 

buildOn believes that the best way for young people to learn how to lead is by first learning how to serve.

Through our Service Learning Program, youth from under-resourced U.S. high schools are empowered to take on the most pressing issues in their communities through intensive local service. When they can see the impact of their efforts first-hand, the results are powerful. And in fact, 98% of buildOn students go on to graduate high school.

Similarly, the global communities buildOn partners with are creating a more equitable future one classroom at a time, with a new school being built every two days. These schools are constructed in eight of the economically poorest countries in the world where opportunity––particularly for women and girls of color––is severely lacking. Communities like Thiadia Mboss in Senegal where 12-year-old Ndiaya Seck dreams of becoming a doctor when she grows up.

“The first day we came to these new classrooms, I was so happy and I kept smiling the whole day long. Now we are in good conditions to learn, which is a motivation for me.”
— Ndiaya Seck, Senegal

Having lost her mother during her birth, Ndiaya understands how important it is for women to receive quality maternal and prenatal health care––a vital need that many countries, developed or not, desperately lack. While she was eager to learn from a young age, her village unfortunately didn’t have a school. Then, when she turned eight, a temporary school shelter was built, allowing her to finally enroll. Even though she was excited to be learning, Ndiaya remembers how challenging it was in a crowded, insecure structure that was vulnerable to all weather conditions. Fortunately, this past December, buildOn was able to partner with her community to build a brand new school with safe, sturdy walls, desks and school supplies, and latrines. 

The Future Looks Bright

This Black History Month, we’re celebrating inspiring Black historical figures and modern day leaders who serve as an example of what’s possible when we embrace equity, diversity, and inclusion. People like Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first African-American woman physician in the United States.

Born in 1831, she was raised in Pennsylvania and often witnessed her aunt caring for the ill which inspired a life of learning and a devotion to caring for and studying diseases afflicting women and children. And she––like buildOn student Ndiaya––was passionate about keeping women healthy before, during, and after childbirth. More than 140 years later, Ndiaya is on her way to breaking barriers of her own and building a better life for herself and future generations. 

And for that, we should all be grateful.

Help more children like Ndiaya receive a quality education!

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