Elizabeth Warren – Opportunity & My Mom 6

As an attendee at an Elizabeth Warren Listening Tour gathering recently in Dorchester, I was struck by her down-to-earth qualities, passion for and clarity about her beliefs.  She has a message, grounded in her background and values, and she can deliver it straightforwardly.

Her message is opportunity – that the USA has been a land of opportunity for everyone and that those opportunities cannot continue to be eroded.

Something she shared about her background was so similar to my Mom’s background, that I called Mom to discuss it the day after.

Warren shared that she’d married at 19 (like my Mom) and went to college to become a teacher.  A federal grant she received during that time had 10% of its interest forgiven each year if one taught in schools in a particular district.  She said it was an NDEA grant (National Defense Education Act*).  I remember my Mom got a federal grant with the same terms.  It turned out that the entire grant was forgiven if she taught in a low-income school district for a number of years.  This worked out perfectly for my Mom because she wanted to teach in an inner-city, low-income neighborhood.

When my Mom went back to college, I was in the 8th grade.  I never knew what had prompted her to return to college.  Talking with her after hearing Elizabeth Warren, I asked her.  In asking her, I learned more about her motivation than I knew before.   

Mom said that she decided to try to go back to college because of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination.  When she saw the images of him being shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel, she was struck by how he’d given his life fighting for opportunities and freedom for Black people.  She thought, “If he can die for us, what am I going to do?”

She went down to Harris Teacher’s College and took the placement test, telling no one in case she failed.  She didn’t know how she would pay for college but she stepped out on faith.  She aced the test.  Mom told me that Mother (her mom, my grandmother) was so excited when she told her.   “You know your sister and brother will follow you as you lead the way.”  That is what happened – my uncle (R.I.P.), and my aunts all ended up going to Harris Teacher’s College. Four of them, including my Mom, got their Master’s degrees.  They all became educators – three are now retired, two still teach.

My mother could not have gone to college without the grant.  When that door opened for her, it opened for our extended family (some cousins were motivated to go to college) and close friends. 

Elizabeth Warren went on to law school.  She talked about the loving assistance she got when her aunt helped her with her children.  My mother talked about my grandmother driving way down from Kinloch, the small city out in the county to pick her up from school sometimes.  She shared an especially telling story about how she got the money to buy her textbooks which she remembers costing $124.  I won’t share that story here, let’s just say it was a family effort.

A couple of people commented during the gathering with Ms. Warren that “they wish they could get such forgiveness for their loans” and lamented the fact that our public university was becoming more like a private, elite institution because it was charged with raising so much of its own funding.

Federal programs like NDEA, Head Start, Model Cities and OIC (Opportunities Industrialization Centers) ushered a lot of people into the middle class in this country.  They provided opportunities that my family is still reaping and raised the bar in our expectations of what we could do/should do with our lives.

I believe that if Ms. Warren continues to talk directly to people across the state and shares her personal story, her fight for consumer rights (which she does not divorce from consumer responsibility), and her passion for the duty of the government to provide opportunities for working and middle class Americans, she can be elected as the Senator from Massachusetts.

In the meantime, I had an unexpected conversation with my Mom and added more knowledge and stories to our family’s history.  Thank you, Ms. Warren, and thank you, Mom.

(*NDEA was signed into law on 9/2/58 with the express purpose of increasing the # of students attending college and of boosting science proficiency.)

About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

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6 thoughts on “Elizabeth Warren – Opportunity & My Mom

  • Jim

    Your family story is inspiring! As for Elizabeth Warren, I hope she runs, I hope she gets the nomination and I hope she wins. I’ve admired her since she began speaking out against predatory bank practices, the industry norms.

  • Mark Maloney

    I knew that I would support Elizabeth Warren because of her work on consumer protection. I am even more enthusiastic now that I have read your inspiring report. She is not only bright, sharp, and clever. More importantly, she is real!

  • Lilly

    What a wonderful post and what an inspiration you mother is. Just goes to show how one inspirational force ignites others to take charge of their lives and on and on. However, the opportunities have to be available and education is much the same here. The institutions are run like businesses because of restricted government assistance. However, if you are determined which your mother and her siblings, with the help of your grandmother, were anything can be overcome. We need to bottle some of that drive because its in short supply these days. Thanks for the inspirational post and a reminder about our own personal goals.

  • Candelaria

    Thanks for your comments.  While I agree that determination can overcome a lot, the fact that there were stipends and scholarships made a huge difference.  The cost of education and the shrinking of scholarships and reasonable loans is thwarting a lot of people, especially people from poorer backgrounds, from going to college.