The Power Of Education – Michael J. Kasen, Esquire
When Fredrick came to me and asked me to be a part of the foundation, I was hesitant at first as I’m already spread a little thin and trying to make a new office successful, but after listening to Fredrick’s aims at improving systemic poverty and economic disadvantage in the African American community and his ideas for how this could be accomplished I realized that we share many of the same grand ideas; the kind of ideas that are easier to think about than to implement, at least for me. The difference is that Fredrick has the vision to try and implement these ideas that I have often thought about.
I’ve always believed that education was the key over coming poverty. That was a belief that I came to hold after learning a great story about my family’s history. Anyone who knows me has probably heard me tell the story multiple times. My Grandmother’s family was very poor. Her parents emigrated to the United States in the late 1890’s from Eastern Europe to escape the pogroms that were devastating the Jewish community there. They settled in Camden, New Jersey and always struggled to make a living but their house was a happy one with seven children. My Grandmother was the fourth and was born in 1915. In 1929, while her mother was pregnant with the last of the Sherman kids, her father died, leaving a single mother to raise seven kids during the Great Depression.
My Great Grandmother struggled mightily to provide for her children. The story goes (I assume it’s been exaggerated over the years) there was one pair of shoes for the three girls to share and rarely money for a hot meal. Despite this adversity, my Great Grandmother always preached that education was the key. She didn’t allow any of the children to drop out of school in order to generate an additional income. One day, my Grandmother’s eldest brother read an article indicating that the University of Alabama had a program that allowed students to attend free of charge and as soon as practical, he began hitch-hiking to Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Mind you, this was a Jewish kid who had never been outside of Camden, New Jersey and he was traveling with no real plan or money to sustain him, but he knew he wanted to get a college education. It’s worth remembering that five years prior to the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in Alabama, in 1958, an attempt was made, using a very similar device, to blow-up Temple Beth-El, one of only four conservative synagogues in Alabama today. Fortunately, the bombing was attempted on a rainy day and the rain destroyed the fuses of the bomb. Needless to say, Alabama wasn’t a place where a Jewish kid from Camden would fit in in the 1930’s, but for my uncle, the sacrifice was worth it because he wanted an education. He began attending classes without enrolling or applying. After a few weeks the dean called him in and pointed out that no record of him existed. He fought back, accusing the dean of losing the records and caused enough of a scene that the dean brushed him off and told him that they would figure it out.
After his first year in Alabama, he was hitch-hiking home and telling the story to the man who was giving him a ride. The man giving him the ride was, unbeknownst to my uncle, was a booster at the university of Alabama. When my uncle learned this, at first he was nervous that the gig was up and he would not be able to achieve his goal of a college education, however, the booster was so impressed that education was so important to him that he “brought him into his house for a few days, gave him the first hot-meal he had had in some time, gave him bus fare to get the rest of the way home and told him that if he ever ran into trouble with the school to let him know.
Fast forward to graduation time, and the University of Alabama didn’t want to allow him to graduate. He called the man who had given him a ride after his first year and it was smoothed out and he was allowed to graduate. He went on to become a successful pediatrist and each of the seven Sherman kids paid for the next to go to college. Of the seven kids, one ended up being a middle school teacher in the Camden public schools for nearly forty years, there was an ear nose and throat doctor, a lawyer, an aeronautic engineer and two house-wives. They all had kids and grandkids who have all had successful careers in various fields. If it weren’t for My Great-Grandmother’s preaching of the importance of an education who knows what would have come of the family.
Obviously, this is not a story that can be replicated exactly today or on a big scale, but the idea that comes from it can. Education is the key. Preaching the importance of education takes a long-term view on escaping poverty. My great-uncle could have found work in a grocery or some other job and that would have provided an immediate benefit to the family, but instead and because it was instilled in him that he should seek an education, he made huge sacrifices, and the family made sacrifices so that he could receive a college degree, something that didn’t benefit my great-grandmother immediately but made an immensely positive impact on the future generations. There is no reason that same concept doesn’t hold true today and one of the ambitions of The Scott Family Foundation is to get this message out to today’s economically disadvantaged communities.
Authored by: Michael J. Kasen, Esquire