In fifth grade I handed my mom an application for a new charter school in the middle of Harlem. I spent a long time explaining the lottery process and she agreed to submit the application. This application turned out to be my golden ticket to the American Dream—the dream my mom fought so hard to give me. But my journey to attain the American Dream started long before my name was entered in that lottery.
The story begins when my family boarded an American Airlines flight from the Dominican Republic. I was two years old. My mom promised to give me Legos if I made it through the three-hour flight without crying. As the engine roared, the world I knew vanished behind clouds as we headed to the unknown world of New York.
The experience of bouncing from relative to relative in Washington Heights, struggling to learn English in elementary school, and watching my mom work overnight shift after overnight shift at McDonald’s, molded my determination. It pushed me past the days where I had nothing but my dreams and my mom always saying: “El fracaso no es una opción”—failure is not an option.
When I enrolled at Democracy Prep Charter Middle School my dream of success became a possibility, a tangible light at the end of the tunnel. But the tunnel was paved with early mornings and late nights.
On I moved to high school where the challenges became bigger and the stakes greater. While my classmates and I threw ourselves into the culture of hard work and persistence, Democracy Prep provided all of us opportunities far beyond what we had ever imagined for ourselves: whether it was being able to travel to Italy, Ecuador, Korea, or South Africa or participating in programs like Code Interactive. As kids from Harlem and the Bronx these opportunities introduce us to a world that we wouldn’t get to experience otherwise.
College football legend Lou Holtz once said, “Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.” Growing up in a poor minority community, I was told about this American Dream but that it wasn’t for kids like me. We can’t do anything about the circumstances we are born into… that's the 10%. But at Democracy Prep we work on the 90% with the help of incredibly passionate teachers. Democracy Prep helped turn young, shy, clueless kids into mature young men and women who are going to change the world.
How do I know this? Because I was that kid who was transformed, that kid who was shy and had no idea that his dreams were attainable. This is where I learned how to do algebra, how to annotate a book, how to tie a tie, how to shake someone’s hand and look them straight in the eyes, how to work hard, how to travel the world, how to change the world, and how to turn hard work into success. Seven years after I handed my mom that application, I am on my way to Harvard University, eager to take my next step.
This month, thousands of high school students will graduate from charter schools across the county. We are so impressed by everything that these students have accomplished and can’t wait to see what the future holds. Check back here every day to see a new charter school graduate in our 30 Days of Grad series. Want to share your story? Join the conversation using #30DaysOfGrad.