Turning urban youth into global citizens | Angela Jackson | TEDxProvidence

Turning urban youth into global citizens | Angela Jackson | TEDxProvidence

Translator: Vivian Polikar
Reviewer: Laura Díaz Aguirre Wow! This is going to take
a moment to soak this in. I’m truly honored to be here today,
to share my idea on how I can change the world
and really the story that led to it. Because I had a very unlikely journey
to get to this stage. And it really is about the kids
that you see behind me. These are groups of kids that
I work with in New York city, but when I look at this picture,
I see kids that remind me of myself. They attend one of the poorest
performing schools, in New York City. And we know what the bars are,
we know what the statistics are when it comes to that, what their future
prospects would look like. When I look at that,
I just personally thought that was unacceptable. When I look at some of our poorest
and most vulnerable communities, I think that there is so much untapped
potential in those children. When you look at them, bright eyed,
they’re smart, they’re full of energy… I think what it takes is just
people in our community, people who really care about
the future of our country, to think of innovative ways that
we can expand their horizons, think about ways that we can address
what statistics say are going to happen to these children, just because
they are born in a certain zip code. So, my idea around change and what
Global Language Project is all about, is taking children from some
of the poorest and underserved schools and exposing them to world languages,
and culture. And the spirit behind the whole idea
is that, sometimes, these children have very small horizons, just because of the communities
they grew up in. The thought is that if you give them
fluency in a 2nd or 3rd language, One, you are giving them
a transferable skill that can help them, but, two, you are literally
broadening their horizons, you are introducing them to places that
they may not know about. You are looking at some
of the statistics here, when some of them
are just struggling in literacy, and you are addressing that as well. When I look at this,
I look back at that picture of the bright kids
and you see the statistics where, again, you know that they have
a better chance of getting pregnant and being poor than graduating
from college. When I look at that room
and I can just say percentage wise how many of them are not going
to graduate from High School, again, for me, that drives me.
That’s my passion. I thought about what can I do
to make a difference. What do I have from the back
of my experience, that I can bring up here
and turn to these children? The other thing I thought about
when I look at the statistics is: we know that these children have received
the short end of the stick, right? We know that they lack community support,
we know that they lack family support, we know that they are not
receiving the best education. So, I thought of how do we address that?
How do we have a make good of sorts? The idea that I had around that
was giving them exposure to a lead opportunities, educational opportunities that are
historically reserved for elite students. They’re reserved to students
who go to private schools. They are reserved for students
who have parents who can afford after-school programs, language programs
and arts programs… I said, “What if we were to give all of that great enrichment
to these children? How could it impact their lives,
how could it change their lives in the future?” This is a statistic, you know,
that, again, a lot of us know, when it comes to these children,
what they are dealing with, you know. We know that their background,
what they are up against, it’s how do we take that and
how do we move it forward. So, when I was thinking about this talk
and what I wanted to share with you today, I thought about where it starts. This isn’t a great picture,
but it’s of me and my grandparents. And, the reason why this picture
is very close to my own heart is this is my undergraduate graduation. But, what’s more important
is my grandparents, which you can’t really see them.
My grandfather, on my right hand side, he grew up in the segregated South. He was not allowed to attend school
pass the 3rd grade. My grandmother only went to middle school. So, by all accounts,
they were wholy uneducated. But, despite this, what happened was,
it gave them a reverence for education. And they raised me and they poured
all their hopes and dreams… To them, if I could just get
a college education, I would be OK. Like that was just the Holy Grail. They believed deeply that
if I was able to graduate from college, that I wouldn’t be destined
to a life of poverty, that I could break our
families’ generational poverty cycle. And, when I look at that
it gives me chills, because, in a lot of ways, that was true. After undergraduate,
I went to a coporate career that, literally, took me around the world. You know, growing up,
I remember my grandmother telling me, “The world can be your oyster”. And, fast foward in 15 years, I had gone to places and worked in places
that they didn’t even know existed. I found myself leading teams in China,
in Europe and I thought: “Gosh, they told me this
about education”. But… they didn’t even know
what I was up against. But, that was about the hope
that they gave me. That’s about raising the bar. And when I stand here,
before you, today, and I say that, you know, again, I grew up during
a time where I could be raised by uneducated grandparents, I could grow up during a time,
where I go to a “ok” public school, but I could still go to college. I could still have a successfull career.
I could still, again, break that poverty cycle. What does that mean? And when I look at schools,
in New York, and some of them in Providence,
I realize, you know, that American dream that I had
is severely broken. We have a generation of very
disheartened students and parents… their ability to dream and inspire
has just been confined and restricted. So, going back to my idea about this. It blew my mind when I was
developing the idea and thinking about my travels…
how, when you live in an area, that most people who come
from poor communities are confined to a 5 or 10 block radius. When I looked at that, I thought,
“Gosh, it’s such a small area”. And, in theory that’s one thing,
but I thought saw it close and personal. When I was working at Nokia
and I’d come back to New York and volunteered in schools, I met parents and students,
who had not left their neighborhood. And I mean, they did their shopping there, they did their groceries,
everything was confined. They’d go to their school,
that was in that same block radius. And you are like, “How can that happen?” What I am saying is, it does! Our first group of kids, we are teaching
them Spanish and Chinese, and we took the Chinese group,
this is back in 2009, 15 students down to Chinatown. $2,50 subway ride, 30 minutes later,
we are in downtown. We are in Canal Street, New York. The kids and their parents,
the kids looked up and one of them, Alexander, said to me, “We are still in New York?” And it threw me, because, you know,
people said, are you going to have them travel
to other countries? I’m like – they’ve not even traveled through
New York City. And that’s when it really hit me, what I was doing in terms of language
and openning them up to other cultures. Because, when we talk about
a 21st Century Global Economy, these children, in 18 years, in 15 years,
their next opportunity may not be here
in the United States. It could be somewhere in another country. They could be working with someone
that doesn’t look like them, that doesn’t speak
the same language with them. And what it’s going to be really important and the key to their success
will be how they show up. You know, when I looked at my life,
working in China, I grew up in a predominantly
African-American community. Everywhere I worked in corporate America,
that was not the case. So, if I was not comfortable in that,
there was no way I would be successful. So, what’s happening in this 5 block
radius, it’s not the world. It’s not the world that
they will have to live in, to operate in. So, really, the genesis behind
Global Language Project was expanding what the world looked like for them. To take what’s foreign – I love how they call
teaching languages, “foreign language” – It’s taking what’s foreign
and making it familiar. So, if an opportunity comes to them,
that they will be excited about it. They won’t be afraid of it. When I first started
Global Language Project, when I was conceptualizing the idea, I was working with the Harlem YMCA. And they were going to give
a group of teens the chance to go to Colombia,
the country, for 2 weeks. They couldn’t get one teen to sign up
for this free 2 week trip. And I said,
“You can’t find anyone to sign up? What’s the catch, they have to pay?”
“They have to do a small fundraiser, but if they can’t bring up the money,
we’ll help them get there.” And I said, “You can’t get one person
to sign up for this trip. Why is that?” And what the counselor told me,
which is something that completely made sense to me, when I thought about, again,
my own background, was: the parents didn’t want
their children going that far. It seemed so far, so remote. They were concerned about them.
That something would happen to them. The teens, themselves, said,
“Well, what will we eat? How will we be treated when we’re there? Will someone be discriminating
against me?” And so, what that made me realize
was that these are teenagers. And I realized they’ve already,
in their mind, decided what’s possible
and what’s not possible for them. So, when I thought about the work with
Global Language Project, we started when they were younger. I said we have to go back to
Elementary School, before they’ve decided what’s foreign,
what’s bad, what’s good. You know, what’s accessible to them. In our first group,
we started in 3rd grade. We started with 30 students
in the 3rd grade. Even at that age, they had already started formulating who were good students
and who were bad students. That second year, we went back
to Kindergarten, because we know, in Kindergarten, it’s a clean slate for everybody.
English is a new language for them. Lesson 1 we were introducing Mandarin
and Arabic and Spanish, but what happened with that
second year and that class was we started teaching them in
an imersive environment. We had donors and people come in
to view the classes. And they would see all of these adults – this is in Hamilton Heights in Harlem – kids are learning to speak Chinese
from the first day. We had all of this donors and supporters
come in to watch these children. And they would say things like,
“Oh, my Gosh, I can’t believe
they are speaking Chinese.” “That’s so hard”;
“Oh my God, these kids are so smart, they are so special.
I can’t believe this”. They’re filming the kids, taking pictures.
And this happens on a regular basis. And, what the kids and the class started
to believe was that they were special. And sometimes, when you think
about opportunities, like language; or if you think about arts, or science
or other programs it allows children to figure out
what they’re good at. And it also allows them to explore
their horizons. And, when I thought about the spirit
behind Global Language Project, it’s about leveling the plan field. It is about openning these children up
to opportunities that they might not have known existed, but now that they do know it exists,
it allows them to escape what could’ve been
their future trajectory. This current year, what’s been interesting…
I felt like we were on to something about giving them and exposing to careers; we thought it’s very important
to give them fluency in a 2nd language that they can use it. What we did this year
was very interesting as well. We started introducing them
to professionals, who are working in the languages
that they are learning. So, we took them to International
Law Firms, we took them to Media Companies
and, again, we had corporate people talk to them about how they use
the language. So, it’s not about memorizing a verb,
it’s about the utility of it. It’s about how you can connect. It’s about giving these kids
a voice and words and language that they didn’t know
existed before. It’s painting a brighter picture for them. You know, in September,
when we started this, we asked the children,
our 5th graders, unprompted, the question that we’ve all heard before:
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” And, at that time, we had one student –
and I remember it was a mirror of answers, but there was one girl, Naomi,
they asked her: “What do you want to be
when you grow up? Her answer was she wanted to be
a hair stylist. And if you go Upper Manhattan,
where she lives, on literally every single block,
there is a hair stylist and there is a barber shop,
or a beauty shop. And, again, there is nothing wrong
with that idea. You know, over the last 6 months,
in March, we went back, and, Naomi had been exposed to
international attorneys and media companies,
to colleges careers, scientists… we went back and asked her again
what she wanted to be. And this time Naomi said – we are getting ready to do our big benefit
called My Dream Speaks – we asked Naomi again
what she wanted to be and, this time, unprompted again, she has the microphone, she goes,
“I want to be an international attorney, helping my clients in Arabic and English”. And, I laughed when [she] said that. It made me smile, because,
at the end of the day, whether she is a hair stylist
using her language or whether she is an attorney, what really matters most is that
she’s expanded her possibilities, right? Because, before you can be anything,
you have to know that it exists. It has to be in your
realm of possibilities. If you don’t know it exists,
could you become it? Possibly. But it’s not probable. And that’s what we wanted to do
around languages. When I look at this, I wanted these kids
to realize the world was their oyster. You know, part of this
and part of my passion behind it, you know, I shared with you
about my grandparents. You know, when I look at those kids
and I look at statistics, I take it personal, because
I should have been a statistic, right? I was a daughter of a teenager mother,
who was a daughter of a teenager mother. I had a 10 times greater chance
of growing up poor than being successful. And what they instilled with me,
my grandparents, which I want to instill
in a generation of students, is that the world literally
can be their oyster. You know, when I went
from Corporate America and decided to do a social venture,
people said, “But the problem in Education is so vast. How do you actually think
that you’re going to make change?” And one thing I say to the people
in this audience is: change is relative. In your lifetime you can impact one life,
that literally can mean the world to them and their future generations
and how they show up in their community. The other piece of it is,
when we talk about social enterprise and why
it’s so important is what I’ve been able to do
with Global Language Project is to take the thinking and the learning that I had in Corporate America
to grow departments, to make tens of thousands of millions
of dollars of profit for corporations. Be able to take that thinking
to some of our most pressing issues, to address and help some of
our most precious assets – our children. When I look at you, I’m just inspired
and I’m encouraged and think of how much that we’ll be able
to do together, when we start looking at this,
as a business. We start taking some
of those methodologies that made corporations so successful,
that have made them sustainable. You know, the curriculum
I talk about that we teach, we also sell nationwide
and that funds our programs in the most neediest schools, so we can
make sure that we are doing this work and we are able to continue
to do this work. And so, again, I encourage you
to think differently about this. My thing is languages
and that’s how I tackle, broadening these horizons, there could be a number of things
that you can do, but what we do need
in terms of education is we need that innovation. We know that if you don’t innovate,
you die. You know, you look at what’s happened
in technology and other industries, everyone is innovating,
except education. So, we do need social entrepreneurs
to address this. Thank you so much. (Applause)


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    this should be done for kids of all demographics.  i was a scottish white suburban boy who had no idea of the world of grown ups and i was good at school but i didnt have a passion or an idea of my possibilities and it impeded my goals for later life which effected my effort later in my education.

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    Matt Biden

    Theirs already a place where your "ideas" have been implemented its called Haiti, Africa, Detroit, etc. 

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    "Expanding what the world looks like means taking what looks foreign and making it familiar" says Angela Jackson @OneCityGlobal 

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    Mohammad Faramarzian

    i think what your doing is very important and awesome. and if not save them from the fate their society dictates, it will save them many years in their self discovery. i myself was exposed to a new culture and way of thinking and ultimately individuality and choice. and still some dreams are too big and out of reach in my mind where as a person from a first world country might see those dreams as a mere stepping stone for achieving something even greater. please continue what you are doing because it is much more than you can imagine.

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