At the age of 14, I became an A Better Chance Scholar. I left home in New York City to attend a prestigious public high school in suburban Pennsylvania. It's an experience that brings up a myriad of emotions, but I think the most prevalent is gratitude. Curiously, not everyone that I share the story with feels the same way. I wish I was better tapped into that alumni network to get some more perspectives on it, but there's one that has remained with me.
I once had a conversation with a classmate about A Better Chance and the benefits to scholars, our communities back home, and our new ones. I shared with her all the ways it empowered me, as well as some of its flaws. My confidante, however, was indignant that ABC was only a bandaid, a dated solution that perpetuated as many problems as it solved. She went on to raise some valid criticisms about education being weaponized as a tool of assimilation. That blew my mind. I would hear the same refrain again as I studied education.
I left the conversation puzzling over whether assimilation was at all avoidable. The underlying assumption in her argument was that many of my personal weaknesses sprang from being uprooted from my community, that I had endured an assimilation so complete that I didn't know who I was. I gathered from this that there is "their" assimilation, and there's "ours." As to whose is better is a matter of speculation.
I was stunned, because up until that point, I hadn't really considered the things I gave up in leaving home. And until very recently, I didn't really have the means to mourn those losses or any idea as to what they really were. Yet, if I had to do it over again, I probably would. There's always going to be a part of me that wonders, who would I be if I stayed in NYC and went to Bronx Science? What career might I have pursued if I was exposed to a STEM-centric education even earlier?
But it's a dizzying rabbit hole that I try not to entertain too often. There is no time travel, no peeking into alternate timelines. This reality is what it is.