My name is Malkese Edwards from the Class of 2009.
I began middle school at M.S. 181, a large public school in the Bronx. The school was very close to my home where I lived with my mother and grandmother. I found out about De La Salle Academy during the sixth grade, due to my involvement in the “Summer on the Hill” enrichment program. Already comfortable in my neighborhood middle school, I remember being hesitant and nervous about the interview, test, and the overall admissions process. My immediate family however encouraged me and pushed me outside of my comfort zone, in hopes that this opportunity would lead to a better outcome in life.
When I gained admission to DLSA for seventh grade, I began the daily commute on the 2 train from the North Bronx down to the 97th Street school building. Similar to the demographic changes I experienced riding the train through the Bronx, Harlem, and the Upper Westside, De La Salle truly was transformational.
One of my DLSA classes entitled “The Civil Rights Movement” taught by Ms. Dafna, was and continues to be one of my most impactful courses. I had always loved history, but prior to DLSA, my experience with the subject was strictly oral and experiential. My grandmother and I would often talk about her experiences growing up in the Jim Crow South, and at my church, we frequently had programs that focused on the contributions of Black Americans. However, this was the first academic class that placed Black history in the foreground. I remember being excited to do the homework, ask questions, and share my thoughts with my peers. It really made my family’s story, and things that were happening in the world around me come to life in the classroom.
After De La Salle, I attended The Pomfret School, a boarding school in rural Connecticut, about 2.5 hours away from the Bronx. While the school was hundreds of acres, boasted a planetarium, and had other mind blowing resources, right away I realized that my time at DLSA was unique and valuable. Of Pomfrets population of over 400 students and staff, we had at most 30 Black and Brown faces on campus. Being consistently the only Black face in my classrooms sometimes made me question if I belonged, and if I truly deserved to be at my school. However, when these thoughts came to mind, the self-worth and intrinsic value communicated by my family, community, and DLSA kept me going. DLSA and specifically my peers in the class of ‘09 really helped guide me through the transition. I had a community of folk, whether they took the Independent Day School route, or also attended boarding schools, who were going through very similar things. Over breaks, I was able to come back home and talk to my DLSA friends not only about life in general but about our shared experiences.
After graduating from the Pomfret School, I attended Emory University where I received my B.A. in African American Studies and minored in Sociology. Similar to how some students of color have their “POSSE” cohort in college, I felt as though DLSA was essentially my POSSE. My relationship with the class of ’09 was strong, it had withstood four years of high school, and also served as a source of support when we all journeyed to our respective colleges and universities. At Emory, I engaged in a lot of on-campus social justice activism aimed around Black Lives Matter, organizing student demands, and holding Emory accountable for its principles of inclusivity, equity and diversity. I worked with the NAACP, collaborated with my peers to host conferences, and initiated trips to Flint and The Stuart Detention Center during their respectives crises. This work, while emotionally draining, was very fulfilling and I knew that post-college I wanted to do work rooted in my community.
For two years immediately following graduation, I joined the “NYU College Advising Corps” which allowed me to serve as a college counselor at the Bronx High School for Writing and Communication Arts. Having grown up less than three miles away from the school, economically and racially I reflected the population that I served. My students without a shadow of a doubt wanted to succeed; they just needed the tools and institutional resources to be able to chase their lofty aspirations. As a college counselor I strove to affirm and provide students with tools to be resilient, persistent, and agents of change in their future schools.
Currently, I am the NYC Program Director for the Young Eisner Scholars Program. Similar to De La Salle, YES seeks to connect students and families from underserved backgrounds with educational resources and extracurricular opportunities. We also have chapters in Los Angeles, North Carolina, and Chicago.
If you would have asked me while I was at De La Salle what I wanted to be doing 10 years in the future, I honestly have no idea what I would have said. Yet, one thing has remained constant: following my passions has led me to meaningful work. Moving forward, I want to continue to center Black and Brown students and their families in my work and hope to continue connecting them to resources and opportunities, as De La Salle did for me. I want to build and participate in systems that make education more equitable and inclusive for those who are marginalized.