A Better Quality of Life

March 30, 2015

By Jabari Jackson, IT Coordinator, Maryland Nonprofits

I had the pleasure of attending the Quality of Life Summit hosted by Maryland Nonprofits that was held on March 24, 2015 at the McDonogh School. The wealth of knowledge and insight provided by the panel of speakers and keynote speaker was priceless. They created a framework for participants to design a vision for what the quality of life should look like in Maryland for years to come. A few takeaways that I left the summit with were: we have to do our best to even the playing field across communities and socio-economic statuses; give everyone the same opportunities to become successful; and begin with our children at the elementary school level.

As I first entered McDonogh’s student center with their high ceilings, engraved wooden chairs, and overall impressive décor, I thought of the high degree of irony accompanying this conversation about privileged families, dispersion of wealth, and the tragedy of underprivileged students while sitting in this particular building. Despite the irony, this may have been the perfect venue to discuss the powerful message presented by Adar Ayira from Associated Black Charities. She outlined a vision for Maryland as one of economic prosperity for EVERYONE and one in which we only win when all of us are taken care of and have our needs met.

During a Q & A portion of the Summit, one woman stood up and mentioned that the attendance for the Quality of Life Summit may have been a bit lower if the venue was located in some of the inner city neighborhoods where the most help is needed. She explained, we as attendees felt at ease talking about these issues of humanity amongst ourselves in the elegant student center on McDonogh’s campus, however many of the attendees may have been uncomfortable meeting in some of the schools or facilities that need help the most in our more impoverished neighborhoods.

What an interesting point.

I spoke with that same woman after she made her point and she mentioned that many of the students she teaches would feel out of place in a setting like McDonogh and would prefer their own environment. She also made the point that whenever we go into a fancy building or are in front of important people, we put on our best clothes, carry ourselves in a professional manner, and try to be as impressive as possible, but many under-privileged kids are not always exposed to these places or people. She also noted that a person who hasn’t had these experiences may even shy away from those experiences to remain connected to the surroundings where they feel most comfortable.

Why is that?

Changes need to be made to give all children the fighting chance at reaching the same levels of success that our children from middle and upper class families have. A person’s future shouldn’t be determined by their family’s income.

It’s obvious from the prior observations that for positive changes to occur, our collective focus needs to be on our youth; grades 1st through 3rd to be exact. Gar Alperovitz, another panelist at the Quality of Life Summit, explained, the test scores of 3rd graders help to determine the number of prisons needed in the future. Third graders! I was still struggling to read in the 3rd grade! Thankfully, I was surrounded by family, teachers, and mentors that helped me get to where I am today.

It was later clarified that the reason why prison developers reference 3rd grade test scores is because after the 3rd grade, children are no longer learning to read, but rather reading to learn. If a child has not learned to read at an adequate level by the 3rd grade, research tells us that these students are far more likely to end up in jail. When you think about this daunting statistic, you can begin to see the dangerous cycle that forms when a 1st, 2nd and 3rd grader is not being prepared for or able to keep up throughout their education because of their difficulty with reading, a cycle which could lead to them possibly going to jail and/or further stagnate their achievements as an adult, who may continue this cycle when they have children themselves.

To break this cycle, we need to focus our attention and resources on providing students in the 1st to 3rd grades with the tools and instruction needed to prepare them for the rest of their childhood and adult education.

I have 6 beautiful, intelligent, creative younger cousins between the ages of 3 and 8. They don’t live in the best neighborhood and don’t have all the resources available to them that a wealthier family might have at their disposal. The fact that society tells me that they might end up in jail or not be as successful as their middle or upper classes counterpart is completely unacceptable. We each only have one life to live, and it’s the duty of those of us that have been blessed with a better quality of life to do what we can to help improve the lives of others.  We are all connected and everything can change when we improve the quality of life for everyone.


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