Memphis is a city rich with history, especially when it comes to civil rights. During a recent trip to Tennessee, we were profoundly inspired by the launch of new efforts to support undocumented youth, which will help to ensure the right to a quality education for more young people living in this country.
These efforts will be made possible through a Commitment to Action from Christian Brothers University (CBU) in collaboration with Latino Memphis—an organization assisting Latinos in the Greater Memphis area with health, education, and justice issues, and through an anonymous grant. CBU and Latino Memphis answered a call to action to support and invest in the success of Latinos, from cradle-to-career, from the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative). This commitment, totaling $12.4 million, will provide scholarships to help undocumented youth pursue their college dreams. More than 100 undocumented Latino students will now have the opportunity to get a college education because of this important investment.
While we were in Tennessee, we engaged with student leaders from CBU. Their grit, resilience and fierce dedication to their education were palpable. When we asked how the students would use their college degrees, the common thread in their responses was giving back to their communities. These students are part of the Latino Student Success program, a privately funded scholarship and loan program aimed at leveling the playing field for students ineligible for state and federal student aid.
“My parents did not finish middle school. It is not that they did not want to help, but they did not know how to and could now financially. I am thankful for the opportunities I have today, but I had to do it all on my own” – CBU Student
It’s critical to find more colleges, universities, and other partners across the country willing to make commitments that can honor and celebrate diversity in our higher education system and ensure that more young people have access to the life-changing opportunity that a quality postsecondary education can make possible.
“We cannot be a country that denies opportunity.” – John King
According to a 2012 study by The University of Tennessee Center for Business and Economic Research, the population of Hispanics in Tennessee increased 134 percent from 2000 – 2010, representing the third fastest Latino population growth in the country.
Our trip gave us a chance to highlight an emerging community that has answered the Initiative’s call to action. For CBU President John Smarrelli, this investment is at the very core of CBU’s mission, which acknowledges that the American dream is not—and should not—be optional.
We ended our trip with business leaders at the Greater Memphis Chamber to learn about the opportunities and solutions that may be helpful to better increase the educational attainment of Hispanic students.
It was a great day, indeed, but there is much more work to do to fulfill America’s promise as the land of opportunity. The challenge is as great as it’s ever been. That’s why we recognize that the health and prosperity of our country is a shared responsibility that takes all of us working together. Through the Initiative’s work and efforts across the Obama Administration, we aim to increase the success of the growing Latino community from preschool through college and careers.
Next month, the Initiative will celebrate its 25th anniversary, a historic milestone that will be commemorated with the announcement of even more public- and private-sector commitments to action that invest in and support the educational attainment of Hispanics. Learn more about our efforts by visiting the Initiative’s website or follow us Twitter.