Dr. Choquette Hamilton is on a mission to shake the status quo.
By Dr. Choquette Hamilton, Photo by Jarren Willis
About ten years ago, I was working full-time at the University of Texas at Austin in addition to working on getting my Ph.D. At the same time, I was expecting my first child. Of all the things going on in my life, no one could have prepared me for my experience trying to find child care for my first son. Not realizing that Austin had a very limited supply of high-quality care options for infants, I waited far too long to get on waitlists.
When the time came for me to go back to work, I was dismayed that I would have to commute up to an hour each way to the one child care center that had an opening for my son. Not only that, the high cost of tuition really stretched our household budget. What disturbed me the most about the cost of tuition was that the teachers, who we loved dearly, were not even getting paid a living wage.
My experience with the early-childhood education system only worsened over time. My husband and I welcomed our second son into the world. By the time my children were old enough to attend public school, we had switched child care centers five times. We were displeased with the lack of quality, diversity and, in some instances, cultural competence of the teaching staff. What’s more, we spent more money on their care than what it cost for me to go to graduate school.
In my heart, I knew there was a better way to deliver early-childhood education.
As my impatience with this unjust system grew, I decided I needed to do something about it. In 2018, I officially formed RISE Child Development Center, Inc. RISE is an anti-racist, 501(c)(3) organization created to address inequity in early-childhood education in Central Texas and throughout the United States. We do this by creating diverse-by-design early-childhood education centers. Using an innovative financial model designed to reduce costs for families and increase salaries for teachers so they are able to earn a living wage.
Although RISE was first formed in 2018, getting it off the ground has been a journey. Starting a new organization has been one of the most difficult endeavors I’ve ever undertaken. There have been times when I wanted to quit. But I choose to keep going. I know I have what it takes to be successful because entrepreneurship is in my blood. I attribute my persistence to my grandfathers, two Black entrepreneurs who fought structural and interpersonal racism to beat the odds.
Legacy of Trailblazers
Despite being the child of slaves and living during Reconstruction, my great-grandfather, William L. Peterson Sr., was able to purchase and run his own store in Alabama. At the time, most Black people were relegated to sharecropping. Systematically blocked from being agents of their own future and well-being.
His son, William Jr., who was subjected to segregation, opened and ran a funeral home and dry-cleaning business. Giving the Black people in his neighborhood access to those services. My grandfathers are two trailblazers among the many known and unknown Black heroes in our country, both past and present, who have worked tirelessly to make our world a better place for everyone. It’s the legacy of my grandfathers and other Black trailblazers that keep me grounded and hopeful. Especially as I carry out my work in the Greater Austin area.
A Complicated History
The city of Austin has a well-documented complicated relationship with the Black community that has resulted in Black people fleeing from the city. (Today, only 5% of the population in Austin identify as Black.) Despite the local challenges in Austin, Texas was recently named the second best state for Black entrepreneurs. Therefore, I will continue to persevere and navigate the complicated landscape I face as a Black entrepreneur in Austin. Just as my grandfathers did in Alabama.
After several starts and stops, RISE Child Development Center, Inc. is closer than ever to being the organization I envision. Scheduled to open May 2021, we are in the final stages of raising capital and securing the location for our first center. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed us down, it has also encouraged me to persist. The pandemic has illuminated the enduring need for high-quality care options and kindergarten-readiness preparation programs for all parents. Not just the ones who can afford it. Inequity in early-childhood education impacts us all. RISE is building a community of people who are dedicated to addressing these inequities. We believe that we must work together so we can RISE together.