Throughout American history, a number of gaps have existed between socioeconomic classes. There are income gaps and nutrition gaps, health gaps and education gaps, but the largest divide of all is the expectation gap. Families (and people in general) are best suited to make incremental progress. If your father never finished fifth grade, middle school graduation becomes an inordinately joyous occasion. If your mother barely finished high school, it is enough for you to get into a college, even if it’s only for a little while.
When your parents are college graduates, becoming a lawyer or a doctor or a small-business owner is a natural assumption. Especially if you have generations of incremental progress to look back at and refer to. Familial history, therefore, either becomes the foundation to jump from or a glass ceiling. Expectations, positive and negative, can only be set with valid frames of reference.
Many families don’t have that, and the responsibility falls to someone else to change it. For us –my siblings and me, it was our grandmother, Erma. Her father was born a slave, illiterate, with no formal education at all. But he pushed her. Though he couldn’t read her homework, he’d rip it up if it wasn’t neat enough. He would make her read from the Bible and Farmers Almanac every night. He always told her that college was the key to a better life in this country.
Erma went on to earn a college degree and two master’s degrees in education during a time when far less was expected of her. Our father followed suit, as did we. The heavy work was already done for us - she’d made the leap. She reset expectations. The goal of Nine Nickels is to put a child in a position to change expectations for themselves and future generations. To show them how to get from point A to point B - no, to teach them what exactly point B actually is.
We want to reshape their expectations and then prepare them to reach those expectations. To show a child a point in the distance and encourage them to leap for it, while providing a safety net underneath in case those first unnatural attempts come up short. We want to enable families to find opportunities for their children to make the leap, and put them in a position for that leap to be a fruitful one.
We believe with the right preparation, encouragement, and resources, the aforementioned gaps can be eliminated. When we succeed, future generations will be able to keep one foot on solid ground, lift the other up, step across the divide and take on a new role as the helper, rather than the helpless.