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Did you know, my mother had begun as she sliced onions with practiced ease in preparation to make stew. Your grandfather was an education reformist. With one final chop, the older woman looked at me across the kitchen island, brown eyes-mirrors of her father`s own-glittering with pride. That`s right, she`d said, he made sure everyone in his village was Educated-boy or girl. He fixed schools, created scholarships…. My mother smiled, a proud daughter. Even at the time the information had struck me. My grandpa; Crusader of educational reforms.

This all took place in a country where, at the time and even today, many (particularly young women) couldn`t even dream of ever having the chance to go to a quality school. According to my mother, her father, Reverend Edet Umoren, had always stressed the importance of education and now, two generations down the line, I agree with him. Education is a means of empowerment. It is a liberation apparatus, a pathway to higher calling. And yet it is out of reach for people even in the United States.

In this country, there is an epidemic running through our schools. With budget cuts and a shortage of quality teachers willing to reside in the more dangerous areas, many schools can barely keep up to date. Textbooks are old, school equipment sparse, and the teachers there to help them often don`t even have the necessary tools to do so. This environment keeps children from being able to learn and, without that ability, most cannot prosper in corporate America where they could better themselves.

Because of this, these kids turn to things like drugs, robbery, and even murder to secure some life for themselves that could either earn them the kind of money that they want or act asn escape from the reality that they live. And, of course, while not every low-income school produces these children, many do.

Of course, even affluent schools are in danger. My high school was in the top one percent of the nation and there were still many things I did not know. These included social justice things, history, even sexual education. This type of ignorance generally doesn`t foster crime as, growing up in a better neighborhood, there is no need for it. What it does create, however, are people with bias, people who are unaware of what is going on in the world around them.

My grandfather knew that education was able to push his home of Nigeria towards progress, and I feel the same way about America. Knowledge is power, as the old adage goes. It opens doors, offers new paths for people to take. Knowledge allows people to learn how to self-assess, read their environment, and understand more about why things are the way they are.

Without knowledge of the why`s and how`s of our past, there is no moving forward. History repeats itself, something I believe happens significantly more when people aren`t aware of the consequences of past actions. In addition, even having that spark of knowledge empowers a person, makes them have an agency to fight for their rights because they know they have them. Education is the water poured onto a person`s seed so they can sprout.

I am passionate about the role of education in the mental and physical liberation for many people around the globe, just like my grandfather. I hope that I can be viewed as an education reformist, that I, too, can change the lives of people who needed to be cultivated.

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