We Prioritize the Things We Love in This Country

This week on the blog I talk to Chastity Lord, the creator of National Proof Point Day. On May 29, 2015, national leaders, community leaders, and students around the country celebrated the second annual #ProofPointDay. The celebration was an opportunity for folks all around the country to embrace and share their identity as first generation college students, or FGs in the #ProofPointDay parlance. In the first part of our interview, Lord discussed the genesis of this concept and what it means for our country. In this second, and final, installment, we discuss how diversity can positively affect decision making.

Me: It sounds like you're saying that, when folks embrace their "first generation" status, you get more diversity in decision making, not just representation, right?

Lord: That’s definitely a part of the goal. I just got asked to be part of Aspen Action. In 2016, I’ll be launching a pledge similar to what Buffet and Gates did around exhausting your billions before you die. I’m going to ask first generation leaders to sign a pledge to do two key things:

1)   Make sure that being a first generation college graduate shows up on your resume;

2)   When you’re introduced, like at a speech or a conference, make that identity something that you note.

Imagine as you start to normalize this experience, how many of those folks within our country will become role models, people with positions of power and influence. We have forgotten what happens when our country invests in people and things. We cannot catch amnesia about why we were willing to do those things. The cost of higher education is escalating, and Pell Grants are being rolled back. There is no way I could have had the trajectory I had if I had gone to college today. The same tools are not in place anymore in 2015. That’s a huge piece of it.

We have forgotten what happens when our country invests in people and things. We cannot catch amnesia about why we were willing to do those things.
— Chastity Lord

Also, what tools and supports and structures are in place for socioeconomic diversity? I care as much about finding  black and brown folks in positions of power, as I do about identifying other folks who started on first base and climbed the ladder, irrespective of their background.

Me: I’m mentoring a first generation college student right now. What’s your advice for me?

Lord: I think what is powerful is reading and talking to people. The same way I don’t know what it’s like to walk in the world as a male, but I know enough to know that there is male privilege. The best thing is to figure out if you’re able to understand other folks’ vulnerabilities. Ask, “What are you doing well? What isn’t going well? Tell me about a time that you felt confident. Tell me when you felt awkward.” It’s really about feeling different. There’s a language and an ethos that’s going on that you haven’t been introduced to.

Me: How long does your big dream take, and what happens in the interim?

Lord: I have two years under my belt, and the secretary of education and the First Lady already have put their name on it. That’s a good foundation. It’s starting. That was organic. People love the idea that there’s this girl who grew up in LA, had this idea, and made it happen. That’s attractive to people. It’s very simple. My next stage with the pledge is to go after the right people. There will be a press release. I’ll tee up some key people. I think that will make it national, outside of education reform.

My big dream is for Howard Schultz to take this on. Starbucks is everywhere, it’s also in economic development zones. I would love to see some of the quotes from the pledge, and people explaining why they’re making this pledge, to show up on the cups at Starbucks. He’s already doing stuff on poverty and higher education.

Whether or not that happens, ultimately people will adopt it. Already people are talking about what they’re going to be doing next year. It’s just about being visible and vocal. I can’t tell you how many emails I get about this. There’s all of this activity. Why not be proud of being first generation? You’re proud enough that you run a 5K that you put a sticker on your car!

Me: Is there reluctance or shame to admitting first generation status?

Lord: That’s why I spent a lot of time on the marathon analogy. People don’t think it’s worthy to talk about being first generation, but there are other things that folks talk about all the time. It highlights that you might be different. But you’re different in that you are a rockstar, my friend! To be the first to do anything is very cool. It changes the way you think about your identity: "I run, oh and by the way, I’m proud to be a first generation college graduate."

Me: What should people know about this, and how can they help?

Lord: This is about first generation folks thinking differently about their own identity, but it’s also about them understanding the imperative nature of thinking about and influencing others’ identity. It’s incumbent to think about how their own embracing of their identity will affect others after them.

The second thing is, I can’t think of a movement that hasn’t deeply relied on allies. Imagine what would happen without allies. Allies play a critical role, and you need to be present, engaged, and you also need to celebrate your brethren who have an identity that is different from your own.

And finally, the origin of this is deeply patriotic. We prioritize the things we love in this country, and this country has always invested both time and resources in creating more first generation college students. That’s deeply American.