Dr. Choquette Hamilton, Philadelphia ’03
Founder and CEO, RISE Child Development Center
“Without community, there is no liberation.” -Audrey Lorde
How are you making an impact for kids, the community, or the network?
After completing my undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 2003, I joined the Teach for America corps in Philadelphia because I wanted to join a community committed to the liberation of all children. I wanted to help ensure that one day all children would all have access to an excellent and equitable education. However, not long after arriving in Philadelphia, it became very apparent to me that the climb to equitable and excellent schools for all children was much steeper than I anticipated. Sadden but not without hope, I continued to find ways to fulfill my commitment as a TFA alumna. Along the journey, I spent time advancing equity, diversity and inclusion at the University of Texas at Austin as well as empowering communities of color through workforce development, youth development and emergency home repairs at the Austin Area Urban League. In addition, as a member of the KIPP Texas Public Schools team, I helped to create joyful and academically excellent schools that prepare students from historically marginalized communities to pursue the path they choose, whether it is college, career or beyond. However, it wasn’t until I started my own family that I discovered an alternative path to ensuring all children receive the education they deserve.
As a working mother, I, like many other parents who work outside of the home, had to find care for my children. However, through the process of enrolling my children in several child care centers across Austin, I was dismayed with several aspects of my experience including but not limited to the cost of tuition, the lack of quality in care, the pay for the teachers and the lack of diversity among the children and families. Working in the p-16 industry, I have witnessed firsthand the impact that inequity in early childhood education has on the life-long trajectory of children but through my experience, I now had a better understanding of why.
Angela Davis once said, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” In that spirit, I am building RISE Child Development Center, Inc. an anti-racist, 501(c)(3) organization created to address inequity in early childhood education in Central Texas and throughout the United States. We will accomplish this goal by creating diverse-by-design early childhood education centers using an innovative financial model designed to reduce costs for families and increase salaries for teachers so they are able to earn a living wage. Our goal is to open the first center in May 2021.
What do you hope to be true for Austin kids, community, and/or the alumni network 10 years from now?
The COVID-19 crisis has illuminated the persistent need for high-quality care options and kindergarten-readiness preparation programs for all parents, not just the ones who can afford it. However, it is important to note that inequity in early childhood education hurts us all. A study by the RAND Corporation has shown that children who start kindergarten behind are likely to stay behind for the rest of their lives, which can lead to life-long negative effects including the increased likelihood of incarceration, reliance on public assistance and a shorter life expectancy. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, research from the University of Pennsylvania shows that for every $1 invested in early childhood education there is a long-term return of up to $12 in economic benefits for communities. We know that an educated workforce is more productive and creates a strong tax base that benefits us all.
10 years from now, I hope that we will have seen significant shifts in policy and early childhood education funding so that all children in Austin, our state and across the country have access to a high-quality, anti-racist early childhood education.