Location, location, location. We all know it matters when making investments in housing. But what about location’s effect on education? If a student lives in a more affluent neighborhood, he or she may receive a better-quality education. Disparities from one neighborhood to another can range from differences in course offerings, funding,  and the number of highly skilled teachers. Neighborhoods with lower income residents can have a difficult time attracting highly skilled teachers.

It has been 62 years since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education and there is still work to do to create access to equal educational opportunities among students of different races in the United States. Darius Jones, an African-American raised in Birmingham, Alabama, saw these inequalities and made decisions around them to lead him on the path to success. During his childhood, he rode the bus from his home over a mountain into a more affluent neighborhood.

“The education was better. If you look at the facilities, the classroom material, the teachers themselves, it was a better learning environment than the public school system in Birmingham,” said Jones, who was the first in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Young people  in his community want to succeed but don’t know how,” Jones said. “They see an obstacle as just a dead end. Unless you know better, you can’t do better.”

Jones’ mother instilled in him the importance of education, and failure was not an option.  “I knew people that didn’t do their homework just to try and fit in,” Jones said. The battle some students face is a fear of being judged.

In his case, Jones returned to the public school near his home for high school, in part because he  believed that attending that school would increase his chances of getting scholarships for college, and he was right. He received more than $200,000 in scholarship funding.

Like many first-generation students, Jones did not earn his university degree in four straight years. Before he attained his degree, he dropped out, experienced depression, and even lived for a time in his car. He pushed through, though, and eventually earned his degree.

Today, Jones uses his own experience to help students achieve their educational goals, and he gives this advice to educators: “Look past a person’s current situation. Look past a person’s appearance. You just don’t yell at Billy for being late. You get curious around why he’s late and you may understand that he took six buses to get there, and he’s responsible for his little sister.”  

So how did Jones get over those obstacles? Listen to the Extra Credit segment, “Getting Over the Mountain,” in Episode 7 of the Upgraded by Hobsons podcast and learn where Jones is now.

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