The Dream of Equal Opportunity is Slipping Away — We're Working Hard To Bring It Back


Michigan Ross Alumni First Person

By Traci Thibodeaux, MBA ’10
Founder and School Director, Rêve Preparatory Charter School

It all started with a dream…

Growing up in some of the most challenging neighborhoods in Houston, I have always viewed education as my way out of poverty. Of course, as a kid I couldn’t quite understand that I was living in “poverty,” but my parents instilled the importance of education in me at an early age, and I knew this would be the key to changing my life.

When my mother had to travel close to an hour through traffic and out of our own community to find high-performing schools for us, I internalized the importance of education.

As I think back to being in kindergarten and arriving hungry in the morning at a predominantly white elementary school in one of the wealthiest communities in Houston — and realizing traffic made us too late for the free breakfast — I know the hunger pangs I felt were not something the other kids in my class were experiencing.

These schools had more funding, which sustained higher quality programs, than those in my own community. And although I struggled with identity issues being a child of color in educational institutions that were not fully comfortable with integrated schools, the high-quality, public education I received in these schools definitely set me on the path to college and career success. 

My K-12 education prepared me to obtain a BS in math from the University of Texas and eventually an MBA from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. I truly got an incredible chance to narrowly escape poverty and experience a life my parents never had access to — and I am forever grateful for the effort those long car rides must have taken every morning.

After graduating from Ross, I could have forgotten about my journey and continued my bliss working in finance at a Fortune 100 company, but, every now and then, thoughts of those hunger pangs as a 5-year-old student came back to me as if they had happened just yesterday.

The memories of neighborhood friends who attended rougher schools, schools closer to home, and never had the same college opportunities after graduation haunted me in a way that made me question why was I able to change my life experience and they were not.

Those thoughts nagged me for years. Eventually, I realized that what infuriated me was how 65 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, the quality of educational opportunities in communities of color was not even close to being equal. And in many instances, the opportunity gap is growing, quickly.

I couldn’t sit by and watch as communities of color continue to be left behind. I needed to be part of building a solution. And that is when I started the very long journey to create an opportunity for the children in the community I grew up in. An opportunity for children to have access to a high-performing, college preparatory school in their neighborhood — close to home.

I led the process of gathering a fiercely committed group of professionals who equally believed in how much a high-quality education could change lives.

Some of those professionals became founding board members of the school. Two fellow Ross MBA grads, Erik Gomez and Sameer Soleja, joined other accomplished community members to support the dream of bringing Rêve Preparatory Charter School to life.

And this fall, it’s finally happening. After two years of dreaming, planning, building, organizing, designing, hiring, training, hoping, praying, and passionately defending the rights of all children to a great education, the doors of Rêve Preparatory Charter School, a kindergarten through grade 8 school, will open this August and welcome our initial cohort of 120 K-1 students, predominantly from the southwest side of Houston.

Rêve means dream in French, and our dream is to provide a high-quality education that not only prepares students for college, but also grows each child in a holistic way. We want to ensure all of our students have the support they need to grow into healthy, confident and college-ready graduates.

And with the help of an incredible team, we’re well on our way to making that dream a reality.

Traci Thibodeaux is the founder and school director of the Rêve Preparatory Charter School in Houston, TX, which is welcoming it's first cohort of students this fall. Learn more about Rêve.

Image copyright: Rêve Preparatory Charter School, 2019