Home » Uncategorized » Today, I was offered $1,000. By Teach for America.

Today, I was offered $1,000. By Teach for America.

ImageAnd I’m turning it down. Here’s why:

As you all may know, I’ve been very busy recently putting together a student-led education conference for youth in LA called EmpowerED: Los Angeles Student Power 2014. I’m incredibly excited for this event, but have been struggling to raise money to fly in student organizers from all over the country. So I’ve been running a crowd-funding campaign to get the funds to make this personal dream of mine come true. Right now, I am a little less than $1000 short of my goal.

Let’s backtrack to a few months ago, when the ideas were still brewing in my mind. I knew that I wanted to provide a space for students to elevate their student voices and organize together for educational justice, but I wasn’t quite sure how at the time. Also during this time, my organization, Students United for Public Education, an entirely student-led, grassroots organization that defends public ed and believes in elevating student/community voice in the struggle for #edujustice (not #edreform), had just launched its first campaign: Students Resisting Teach for America.

After I started participating in the #resistTFA campaign a few months back, TFA folks started to reach out to me to speak with me about the campaign. They were all very respectful, very amicable, and very open to my ideas. We formed friendships, despite our differences in opinions about TFA, based on our mutual passion for education.

Like I always say, I don’t automatically hate everyone in TFA. I know there are genuinely passionate and caring individuals in the organization; I’m even friends with a few of them. With them, I shared my story, my reasons for doing the work that I do, and what I fight for in education, which included my vision for elevating student voice through the EmpowerED conference, a vision that is now coming true by the end of March!

And just a few weeks ago, one of the people I spoke to from TFA a few months back reached out to me, told me they (for privacy reasons) heard about my conference, and were very excited that my vision I had shared with them months ago was actually coming true! They offered their support in any way possible, and I was grateful…

…but careful. I trusted them, but I couldn’t trust the organization they was a part of. I told them that right now, my biggest problem was funding, but I could not (for paperwork reasons) and would not accept funds from any organization (in my mind: especially not TFA). Support had to come individually, from people who were personally standing by the cause. I shared with them information that I had shared with all of my friends/colleagues who I had reached out to in the past to help me spread the word and raise funds through my crowd-funding campaign. To be honest, I didn’t think much would come of it. Crowd-funding has been very exhausting, and I’ve reached out to so many people, with very little outcomes. Needless to say, I was in a desperate position as an organizer.

Now today, I get a call that I will be getting $1000, enough to meet my goal for the EmpowerED conference. I was ecstatic.

But then I was told that I had to take off the embedded SUPE facebook page on the EmpowerED website, because there were posts about #resistTFA there. And that’s when I realized that this money had strings attached, as it would be, despite my previous requests for individual donations, coming from the organization itself, an organization that I resist for very deeply personal, complex, and unique reasons.

I am ashamed to say that I was tempted. Of course, I was tempted. This money, as dirty as it was, would save me so much time and energy trying to raise the remaining $1000 on my own, or trying to make my event work with $1000 less than I intended. I was in a desperate position, but I ultimately decided, a few minutes after talking to them and thinking it through, that I could not accept the money. 

I refuse to accept money from a corporation that is funded by those who contribute to the destabilization of so many communities. These communities are home to the students who will be featured at EmpowerED, students who have made history by coming together with their peers and fighting back against injustices like school closings, high stakes testing, budget cuts, and charter expansion, all of which TFA has had either a direct or indirect role in causing/perpetuating.

How could I take their money? This money was Walton, Gates, and Broad money. This money was made off of the backs of workers and poor communities. This money was behind the oppression of my people.

So, no. I will not be accepting $1000 from Teach for America.

Because I cannot be bought.

If you are an individual who supports student voice in education, please make a donation to EmpowerED 2014. We have to take care of our own. This money will be going directly to a truly grassroots, student-led event that will revolutionize education through the student power movement. Not the corporate, top-down education reform movement.

Thank you.

Peace, love, and lots of power,

Hannah Nguyen

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6 Comments

  1. Alexis E says:

    Way to tell ’em, Hannah! I’m so incredibly proud of you. Keep the faith. Your conference will prove to be amazing and continue for years to come! Best of luck to you! 🙂

  2. Thank you for your courageous and principled stand Ms. Nguyen. This one sentence of yours sums up the entire reason why TFA supporters, no matter how well intentioned, just don’t get it: “This money was behind the oppression of my people.”

  3. Good on you!!! Ms. Nguyen, your voice is far too important to be “bought” and then silenced. And thank you for “outing” TFA on this–they literally try to bribe away any critique of their organization. Please take a bow for adhering to your principles!!!

  4. […] me $1000, and I declined the money. My friend from TFA who relayed the offer yesterday responded to my blog post. Below is his reply, and mine, in the full spirit of […]

  5. nflanagan says:

    In taking a principled stand, Hannah, you have demonstrated more spine and more clear thinking than any number of “famous teachers” who decide that having a “place at the table” is worth sacrificing their deepest-held values–often, ironically, the values that built an exemplary, recognized teaching practice. Thanks for sharing your story–you are an inspiration.

  6. You are the kind of powerful and morally grounded individual that we want in leadership positions. Good for you for now bowing to the power grab. Additionally, if you do a little homework on TFA, it is the first steps for a corporate take over of the education system by using uncertified teachers for short term stints in urban schools. There is no commitment to the profession and who wants a short-term commitment to your students? Well done!

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