27, Philadelphia, Penn.
Most hated stereotype: People of color are not educated.
Sydney considers herself an inner city kid who was raised on a southwest Washington, D.C. block that wasn’t always considered the greatest or safest place. Many of her childhood friends from the neighborhood fit the typical ‘black and latino inner city kid’ stereotypes of being incarcerated, on drugs, teenage parents, or in a grave.
“When people find out where I’m from, the first thing people ask is how old my kids are,” she says. “For some reason, they’re surprised that a Black Latina from the southside of D.C. doesn’t have children.”
Of all of the stereotypes she faces, the biggest is the idea or assumption that she comes from a poor, uneducated family.
“Both my parents are New Yorkers. My mother’s parents are immigrant kids who grew up pretty poor. My father’s family are southern transplants and children of the depression. In fact, my father is only three generations removed from slavery.”
“Everyone in my family struggled to make ends meet, worked dead-end jobs, and never got a formal education. I must not have an education either, or be first generation college educated.”
“My parents and my grandparents have all received higher education. My maternal grandfather is an Architect who got his training on the GI bill after World War II and my maternal grandmother is a graduate of New York University. My paternal grandmother was a librarian who got her degree from Hunter College in New York and my paternal grandfather was a lawyer who went to Lincoln University before attending Fordham Law School.”
And her educational roots go deeper than that. Sydney’s great grandfather was also a lawyer, though his education was a bit less traditional.
“As a black man in Baltimore, my great-grandfather was unable to attend most institutions of higher education. He became a lawyer without graduating from an undergraduate institution. Long story shor: a Baltimore priest was able to help him enroll in a local Catholic college, passing him off as a Pilipino until he was found out to be a ‘Negro.’ He was subsequently kicked out and studied on his own before passing the bar.”
Sydney continues to carry the torch, receiving her Masters in Education (Policy). She has helped non-profits, charter management organizations, school districts, and state departments of education with recruitment and selection to ensure kids have great teachers and school leaders.
“Despite the obstacles, education in my family has remained a priority,” she says. “It was always viewed as a move toward socio-economic mobility and a great way to grow yourself as a person.”
A story about a time/event in your life that you believe most defines you:
I’ll never forget my 8th grade principal telling me that I couldn’t get into the prestigious college preparatory high school some of my classmates were applying to. While I had no interest in going there, that principal gave me motivation to apply, get in, go, and do well. She’s one of the core reasons why I work in K-12 education today—to ensure that all children have outstanding educators who encourage them to succeed and raise the bar. You never know what little things are going to resonate with you, or perch themselves on your soul. That one-day in the stairwell of my middle school changed my life in a way I could never have imagined.
If you started a nonprofit, what cause/issue would you want to benefit? Why?
Character education for kids, especially black and Hispanic kids in low income neighborhoods. I think there isn’t enough instruction around the practical things in life/not enough emphasis on being a good person or having practical life skills. In addition to that, I’ve found that there isn’t a focus on helping young children develop their personal levels of confidence. These are all things that push children towards success in whatever they do. Beyond the classroom lies a world of wonder and worry. We have to spend the time to prepare ourselves and our children to be global citizens with level heads and solid hearts.