As a child, my mother always motivated my brother and me to achieve through public education. In her heart, she knew that being educated would be the only route that we would have out of poverty.
As a kid in elementary school, I faced two main challenges: 1) English was not my first language, and 2) my mother’s lack of education prevented her from being able to help me with my academics. Living in a predominantly Mexican American community in San Bernardino, California, my teachers faced extra pressures in aiding my development. I found myself falling behind due to my inability to complete homework assignments. For a while, my brother who is one year ahead of me held the responsibility of trying to teach me various subjects. Finally, I received an invitation to participate in an after-school program to address my needs.
During my seventh grade year, my mother made the decision to move to Michigan. While I adjusted well to Hazel Park Junior High, I faced a different set of problems once I reached high school.
High school is supposed to be a time to prepare for college. I admit, I started off in Honors classes, but dropped all of them due to personal issues. Not one counselor was there to guide me. Living in a low-income area, I did not have the resources to be a competitive applicant to colleges and universities. My school only offered a couple of Advanced Placement courses, which I did not qualify for. During my sophomore year, Hazel Park High School started receiving assistance from the Michigan State University (MSU) College Advising Corps. With their help, I was able to get accepted into MSU on a system of academic probation.
As I walked across the stage to receive my high school diploma, I had an overwhelming feeling of uneasiness. I attended an institution that was on Michigan’s priority schools list. I knew I was not academically prepared to attend MSU in the fall. During the summer of 2014, I attended a seven-week summer bridge program, TRiO, which is designed to foster college readiness for first-generation attendees and students whose families are struggling financially. This made a major difference and I am proud to say that I am now thriving in my junior year because of my mother, myself and the help I received.
As my story shows, many people cannot simply “pull themselves up,” and it takes more than willpower to succeed in the United States. After gaining an understanding about the institutional barriers that prevent the advancement of communities of color and people facing poverty in Michigan and beyond, I am now an advocate for the allocation of resources to fix these problems. I have faced my share of hurdles and now want to help others who are in my shoes do the same. I am interning with the League because they understand what is needed to help all Michiganians succeed—such as access to child care, early learning, paid leave and healthy food—as well as the importance of diversity and inclusion.
— Janice Mendoza