Growing up, Ciera didn’t have much, but her parents strived to ensure she was exposed to as much as possible. She was a star lacrosse player, played musical instruments, joined numerous student leadership clubs like Future Business Leaders of America, and went to church each Sunday.

Her parents were the biggest drivers of her success, supporting Ciera’s development in anyway they could and also challenging her to be excellent in all she did. Ciera’s family values placed an emphasis on education, and her parents did their best to model and exemplify their expectations for her.

Ciera’s mother demonstrated a commitment to education by finishing her undergraduate degree with Ciera in high school and her brother finishing up elementary school. Their mother graduated with her master’s degree in 2012 while Ciera finished undergrad, which she completed in 2014.

“I think my mom has set one of the best examples of being a black woman in a predominately white setting,” she said. “My mom is a perfectionist, and one of the most awesome people I know. She’s the person I try to model myself after most.”

Ciera’s father was a Philadelphia fireman who died in the line of duty. His vision for Ciera was for her to thrive academically because of the climate of competition in America’s workforce. He preached to her the importance of “doing the best you can, at all times,” because of the challenges he feared she would face as a black woman.

Often times, Ciera was the only black girl in social settings and at school growing up in the suburbs. She said it was difficult to find support groups and mentors because of a lack of diversity in some of the communities she’s lived in, and it motivates the work she does.

Upon graduating from the University of Maryland as an English major, Ciera came to Chicago to serve in the Mission Year program. It was as an assistant teacher in the Breakthrough Youth Network where she discovered her love for educating youth.

Why Leveling Students’ Playing Field Motivates Ciera’s Passion for Education 1

“Being able to walk alongside the youth and encourage them in ways that they don’t get in their schools was so fun to me,” Ciera said. “Getting to know their families, getting to be a part of their lives outside of the classroom, felt very natural.”

In her work at Breakthrough, Ciera has been a fervent advocate for children in Chicago to have the same opportunities to excel socially and academically as she did. “I believe youth development and education should go hand-in-hand. I’m passionate about that, and I’m passionate about seeing kids holistically developed in school settings because they are there for a majority of the day…Not being developed [holistically] in the place they spend most of their time, is detrimental to them.”

Ciera has worked as an assistant, an arts and science teacher, and as a lead teacher within the Nettie Bailey Student Achievement Program while at Breakthrough. She said her next endeavor will likely include working more with parents to create more dynamic partnerships to support children’s holistic development.

“One of my lead duties was working alongside middle school kids who were applying to high schools in CPS, which can be a complicated process,” Ciera said. “To be able to walk alongside them and the parents to advocate for them into the schools they wanted or schools that would be the right fit was really enjoyable to me.”

Ultimately, Ciera wants to open an educational center for children in underserved communities to support their needs with resources they may not have available in their schools.

“When I read my old college journals, I wrote down the dreams I had about opening my own school. It really began with wanting to create safe spaces for kids. And when I think about my passion for education, it goes back to my brother. We are 10 years apart, but we are like best friends. He had experiences similar to mine, being one of the only black boys in his schools.”

“I just want better spaces for our black kids; they deserve that,” she said.

This fall, Ciera took a break from her teaching duties to return to school to get an advanced degree from DePaul University in school counseling. Ideally, she’d like to stand on the frontline of fighting for equity in the education of minority children.

“Going back to school at DePaul is kind of that first step for me in opening my own school,” she said. “I’ve been in teaching for some time now, but I want to get into administration. My hope is that I can get into education policy and advocacy.”

She’s also a member of the latest cohort of the Obama Foundation Community Leadership Corps, which focuses on developing civil innovators working on transformative change in our communities. Her project, titled Lift Every Voice, centers on the arts with a focus on creative writing enrichment.

“I want kids to be able to tell their own stories without needing them to be told by the media,” she said. “There’s so much emphasis on STEM, that the arts are being lost — and as an English major, that’s important to me.”