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A Taste of the Movement: Teach For America’s Rising Leaders Summit

March 23, 2011

It all started with an email reminiscent of spam, saying something like “Congratulations! You have been selected to spend a free weekend in Washington D.C.” Highly doubt it, I thought. Little did I know, this email was the start of a truly amazing experience, in many ways unreal and in all ways exciting.

My name is Jose Paulino and I am a junior at Rutgers University, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Philosophy.  Recently, I was invited to attend Teach for America’s first Rising Leaders Summit, a gathering of 64 undergraduate leaders from 34 top Universities, taking place alongside the organization’s 20th Anniversary Summit.  The Summit began February 11th, and convened over 11,000 people! They included alumni, education and social reform leaders.  I honestly cannot express my level of gratitude and inspiration in a single blog post, but I can try to at least emphasize what’s most outstanding in my mind.

First, the variety and quality of student attendees at the Rising Leaders Summit spoke volumes of the influence Teach For America has gained through its commitment to social justice. We were student leaders from Cornell, the University of Georgia, and Duke; the University of Florida, Brown, and Clemson; Spellman, Notre Dame, and Howard; Princeton, Yale, and the University of Texas at Austin, among many more! The student organizations we were active in included the Rutgers Latino Student Council, the Penn State chapter of the NAACP, and the Black Students Association at Harvard. I was humbled by the observable character Teach For America brought to Washington and moved by our discussions on closing the achievement gap, or as we referred to it, the opportunity gap.

The passion, friendliness, and energy demonstrated by Teach For America’s staff and alumni still resonates in me. The facilitators of the Rising Leaders Summit were extremely helpful in offering advice and making us feel welcome.  We were able to have open, heartfelt conversations about their involvement in TFA, educational inequality, and our personal interests in general. The people of Teach For America share a common purpose and are proud to have a role in advocating on behalf of the greatest social justice movement of our time.    

No time was idle during the summit.  We had to wake up quite early and stay fully engaged throughout the days’ jam-packed sessions.  With that said, much of my experience was to imagine my role in the future of the movement.  As a philosophy minor, I tend to ruminate about the underlying meaning of things and this summit provided a wealth of food for thought. Social advocacy organizations occupy a special place in our society. In essence, they represent collective efforts to do good.  Their members understand the value of sharing their talents, smarts, and goodwill with those that need it the most.

I was amazed by my surroundings.  How often does one get a chance to be amidst 11,000 people, from every race and economic class, all genuinely committed to assisting the disadvantaged and giving a hand to communities that need help?  Problems abound in this world and educational inequity is one of the gravest.  This summit, though, proved that people committed to solving these problems abound too.

I can’t wait to finish my studies and join them. 

Jose Paulino is a junior at Rutgers University majoring in Political Science and minoring in Philosophy. His career interests include International Affairs, Diplomacy, and Urban Planning. At Rutgers, he has been active in the Latino Student Council, the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance Accounting (ALPFA), Latinos Entering Government And Law (LEGAL), and the Undergraduate Associates Program at the Eagleton Institute of Politics.

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