Mon, Nov 28, 2016

Kelly Richardson - #AJobChanged

“Fortune favored me
But good luck is not enough
Time to change the odds

#Ajobchanged how I see the world and my place in it.

I’ve been reflecting a lot this past year about how lucky I am. 

For example - I’m married to a really handsome guy from the Midwest who makes me laugh and does all the cooking. I live in an apartment with a front garden where roses bloom in the summer and where my 95 year old neighbor sits out front everyday and shouts things like “How are ya?” and “Beautiful!” to everyone who walks by, and, when I walk through the front gate, yells “Welcome home!” My brothers and sisters and friends are kind and accomplished and all working to make the world better in their own way. And I have my dream job.

Three years ago, I joined Per Scholas almost by chance. And now I get to work with an amazing team and what we’re doing makes a proven difference. Lucky. 

I remember when I interviewed for that first position at Per Scholas three years ago, our President & CEO Plinio asked me, “Why are you here?” Well Plinio, I’m here because of luck. I’m here because I found a great mentor and leader and would have followed her to just about the edge of the world. Or the Bronx. I’m here because when I was a senior at the University of Michigan, the US Chief Economist of Deutsche Bank saw my resume in a stack of hundreds, and asked me if I’d like to interview for a job in New York. I’m here because my parents have 5 post secondary degrees between them and somehow convinced me as a girl that math is super fun. My sister and I used to request more math workbooks as a treat!

I’m here because I grew up in the fourth richest county in the richest country in the world, got an amazing public school education, got a free ride to Michigan, landed a job on Wall Street, saved up enough money to quit and do what I really wanted to do, and had a ton of people who loved me and supported me along the way. I mean, how do you get more lucky than that.

The crazy thing is that I didn’t realize how lucky I was until I got to Per Scholas. They might retroactively decide not to hire me for saying this, but I had no idea what poverty was until I started working here. I’d studied it academically. I knew why the federal poverty guidelines were messed up. I could tell you all about the Workforce Investment Act. On a macro level, I wanted to fix poverty. I said things like, “on a macro level.” But I didn’t personally know anyone who was from a low-income community. Not asingle person.

Then I joined Per Scholas. And over the last three years, I learned a lot about luck. 

I met a student who was smarter than most of my old college physics classmates, who was unable to work for most of his adult life because his mom carried him across the Rio Grande when he was four years old, and he didn’t have work authorization.

I met another student who was even smarter than that guy, and one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met, who was out of work for years because he’d been caught selling marijuana as a teenager. 

Do you know what happened to the guys who sold weed in my high school? They went into finance. The last I heard, they were doing quite well.

More than 80 classes have graduated from Per Scholas since I joined three years ago. During almost every class, at least one student has lost a family member or a friend. I’ve only been to three funerals in my life.

There are students who have shared in conversation with me that they are homeless, are living with a mentally unstable parent, are taking on the childcare responsibilities of their younger siblings. There are students who haven’t eaten in days, who walk five miles to get to Per Scholas every single day, or who left horrible situations and except for their Per Scholas community are completely alone. I never knew poverty was lonely.

So I learned about poverty, and I learned about luck.  And for awhile at Per Scholas, I thought my mission was to change the luck of our students. We were getting curious, motivated, problem solvers into great jobs - a huge reversal of fortune! I celebrated every single time one of our students beat the horrible odds they’d been facing and landed a life changing job with agreat salary.

But something was still bugging me. What was the problem we were trying to solve here? I would be at Per Scholas and hear about a student landing ajob at a great employer partner, and feel happy and energized. And then I would go visit that same employer partner and see a tech workforce that looked an awful lot like my university physics classroom, or the Wall Street trading floor, or like me. Highly educated, highly white, highly not representative of New York. And I’d feel like I was kidding myself. We have to stop celebrating the students who beat the odds. It’s time to change the odds.

This is what I want to do with all this luck and this dream job of mine. I want to change the odds. I want to walk into any - into all - of our employer partners and see a tech workforce as beautiful and diverse as the people of this city. I want to change the face of tech in New York.”


Per Scholas New York, Managing Director, Kelly Richardson. Check out more stories from our students on what #Ajobchanged for them and support our mission to change the odds here.


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