This time of year has long been my favorite because of our annual GEC board retreat. In non-Covid times we would spend a long weekend together at my parents’ home and work and rejoice in one another’s company. It is a time of personal grounding, of friendship, of family, and of lots of hard work. Even if we could not gather in person this year- it felt that we were in one space- our special space. From Ghana to Kenya, to California to Louisiana, and so many places in between- we came together with the common bond of wanting to support our amazing young scholars and their families. Our Zoom time ended and I cried yet they were tears of appreciation. Of gratitude. You see, my best friend, London, and I had a wild idea in our young 20’s that we would create and operate a nonprofit and an NGO - on a different continent, while both still working as full-time educators. Inspired by our experiences in the classroom, traveling abroad to Ghana, and through our work with organizations like America Achieves and Teach for America we knew that we wanted to be lifelong advocates for educational equity both in the US and aboard. In truth, we were young and naive when we started GEC. We had to learn, unlearn and relearn mindsets and skillsets. We dove in head first learning how to run and operate nonprofits nationally and internationally and honestly we did not always get it right. We did however have a steadfast belief that we could always do better and that our students and families deserved our best. We were, (and are), committed to always improving our organization and be responsive to the needs of our students, families, and schools.
So here we are- over 11 years later. I think my post-board call tears flowed for more than one reason. My heart breaks every day from the injustices continuing to occur in our country: racism, inequities inherently derived from systems of oppression, political divisiveness …. Ohhh… the list goes on and on. After all we suffered in 2020, heading into 2021 it still seems that at times the world is truly a dumpster fire. But not today. Not for the hours I just spent with my brain trust of amazing board members. Over the course of our online “retreat”, we tackled conversations on the inherent bias in our work, reflected on the past year, and planned for the year ahead. This retreat was different- I am different. I am now the mother of a young male- and I consequently see the world through a parental lens whereas before it was solely through that of an educator... I think I feel just as our GEC parents feel- - I want the best for our children, I want quality educational opportunities for our children and I want the best we can offer our children in this world.
I watched in awe today as our young leaders rose to leadership in our organization. From our Program Manager, Derrick, in Ghana ( an alumnus of the program and a current graduate student), to William (our eldest alumni and now GEC board member who is a research assistant at Harvard), to Megan (our now Secretary of the GEC who joined us as a youth board member and is a senior in college), they each stepped into their individual leadership roles. As they did, I watched myself be able to step back. What I saw unfolding was the vision London and I had all along- to pass along our dream of a community focused on education equity to the youth members themselves.
During our call, we also reviewed our fundraising and I reflected on the unwavering amount of gratitude I have for our donors who have supported us each step of the way. We have operated solely on friends and family donations for 11 years. With each student who was able to attend school, with each family that received basic supplies during COVID-19, I see my family and friends in the background making this all possible. With all this in mind, I want to announce that this year we are focusing on the people who make GEC possible by launching a “Thankful Thursday Campaign”. Every Thursday in 2021 we will highlight our students, families, schools, educators, board members, and donors who make-up the GEC Family. We want to recognize the individual efforts that have allowed us to build our community and create opportunities for those who need it most. To those that helped us along this journey, I want to say: ‘ woaboa me pa ara, medaase (Twi). You have helped me a lot and thank you. (English)”
Meet Priscilla Hanson! Priscilla was born in Cape Coast in the Central Region of Ghana. She is the youngest of six siblings and comes from a family that truly understands the importance of education. Priscilla’s mother was forced to drop out of school when she was young because her family was unable to pay for it, and as a mother wants the opposite for her children. Priscilla’s mom sells biscuits and drinks on the side of the road to support her family and put food on the table, but unfortunately still struggles.
Priscilla is extremely hardworking, curious, and competitive. Her efforts in school do not go unnoticed, and teachers often name her as a student assistant or “cupboard girl.” She truly is a servant leader and is always looking to help others in whatever way she can, always being an example to those around her!
In the future, Priscilla wants to become a lawyer and serve as an advocate to ensure that Ghana is more just. We have no doubt she will accomplish her goals, and the GEC family is so proud of the young woman she is becoming!
1. What were some graduation highlights?
I think the biggest highlight was having Lauren and London come to my graduation. It reminded me how quickly the time went by. I met them about the same time nine years ago when they came to Ghana in 2010, looking to start the non-profit. I didn’t have any plans to go to high school because I wouldn’t be able to afford it, so it was very surreal to see them there nine years later. I’ve had the GEC support system to get through college and now graduate, to have them there to support me was everything. Having that support system and being reminded of how things would be different if I hadn’t met them nine years ago.
My mom called me right before I went on the stage. She Facetimed me and I was able to share that moment with my family in Ghana. Derrick livestreamed the graduation for my family. Derrick sent me the video of everyone watching my graduation. When they mentioned my name on stage, the whole group went wild. 5,000 miles away they could share that moment. I was the first person to graduate from college in my family, so it was my family’s celebration. Having Lauren and London there in person and my family back home watching and sharing with them back home was very surreal.
2. What did it feel like?
It felt surreal. I don’t have emotions to explain it. I experience a lot of reflection about the four years. It’s been such a whirlwind. I haven’t even taken a breath. To see everything culminate. I was very inspired as the first in my family to graduate. I wanted to make sure I was giving it my all. I received two awards. I didn’t just graduate--my efforts were also recognized. In general, it felt surreal thinking back and being the first person in my family to do this. It felt like a lot of firsts. I wasn’t just the first person to graduate. I wasn’t doing it from my local university. I traveled all the way to the US. I wasn’t just graduating. I was graduating with honors. I got four publications in academic journals. I wanted to make it count - for myself and for my family.
3. What’s next for you?
I am currently living in Boston and taking a research year with two professors. I'm working at Beth Israel Medical Center, a teaching hospital for Harvard Medical school. I plan on applying to medical schools for Fall 2020.
4. One word about the Importance of GEC in your journey:
Transformative. GEC was the turning point of my life. Sometimes I think about what would have happened if I missed school that day and didn’t meet Lauren and London. It makes me really appreciate what I have now and inspires me to keep going to pursue my dreams.