Real Success

by Mari Aviles 
inspired by TBAWP 2020’s freewrite

Success is achieving a goal you set, whether short or long term. Success is doing the thing you set your mind to even when it’s hard. Success comes with the whisper in your ear, “Well done.”

For a long time, I didn’t really consider myself successful- I had failed at my greatest goal: providing an intact family for my children- and that tainted every other aspect of life. The heaviness of the tattered family tapestry shrouded me in self-doubt and often disdain for the person I was. Then, one day, at an AVID training, I participated in a privilege walk.

There were about 80 of us present, all professional educators, and we were told to stand in a straight line, shoulder to shoulder. The facilitator asked a series of questions: Did you have a two-parent household, did someone read to you as a child, did any family members suffer from addiction, was anyone in your family in jail. With each question, you had to take either steps forward or back. After the long list of questions was read, people were in various places in the large hall. Some were at the very front of the room, many were in the center part of the room, and a few were way in the back. We were asked to look around the room and notice how we felt about our placement and that of others. People scanned the room, comfortable, embarrassed, surprised. 

The facilitator asked the people at the very front, a young black girl and an older white woman, how they felt looking around. They both expressed feelings of gratitude for the hard work and sacrifices of their parents. The white woman, though, also expressed a feeling of guilt- guilt because she hadn’t done anything herself to be in that position. She kept saying, “I just feel so bad.”

The facilitator then asked the two people who were at the very back of the hall, a young black girl and me- a 40 something Puerto Rican, how we felt. The young girl, who was just a few steps ahead of me expressed some surprise at her placement because much of her experience had just seemed “normal”. When I was asked, I couldn’t hide my feelings. “HO-LY SHIT. I am the very last person in this room!” I looked at the people in the room who statistics say should have absolutely been behind me and smiled. “I’m pretty friggin’ proud of myself- I may have started all the way the hell back here, but when we started this exercise, we were all on the same line: all college graduates, all leaders at our schools, all professional educators.” I then addressed the woman at the front of the room. “I don’t want you to feel guilty or bad for me. Neither of us had any control over the circumstances we were born into- I don’t resent your placement in this room. On the contrary. It inspires me to do all I can so that my kids don’t ever join me back here. So, don’t feel bad. Just share the responsibility with me of paying forward what we’ve been given and what we’ve learned so that the education we help to provide is part of the privilege all of our students can take part in.”

I think that was the first time it hit me: I really am a success.


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