Samantha Wilkerson, public affairs manager at JerseyCAN, is a dedicated advocate for equitable education opportunities. With a background in ESL curriculum development and teaching in Honduras, Samantha’s journey led her to St. Louis, where she earned her Master in Education and championed equitable funding for public school students. Returning to New Jersey, she collaborated with organizations like NEED and Newark for Educational Equity and Diversity, crafting policies to enhance the lives of Newark’s children. Samantha’s commitment to education also took her to the Bronx in 2021, where she worked on economic stability policy reform. Now, at JerseyCAN, she is driven to advance sustainable, equitable educational opportunities for New Jersey’s youth.
I aspire to be like my grandmothers. Here’s why:
My grandmothers instilled in me a profound love for others and an unwavering commitment to being assets to our community. Raised in the Jim Crow South, their stories are a testament to the remarkable resilience and strength of Black women who defied adversity. Both grandmothers made the courageous journey north in pursuit of better lives and opportunities for their families, and in doing so, they paved the way for future generations.
Growing up, I witnessed firsthand the boundless love my grandmothers had for their neighbors and community. Their homes were always open, and their hearts even more so. They taught me that community is not just where you live but a part of who you are, and it’s our duty to give back and support those around us. Their stories of overcoming discrimination and hardship have left an indelible mark on my character, reminding me that strength and resilience are not just admirable qualities but essential tools for progress. I strive to carry forward their legacy by fostering love, compassion and resilience in my own journey, inspired by the incredible women who shaped my life.
Why I love my job:
I love my job because it allows me to connect community members to the information they need to make their voices heard. Being a conduit for knowledge and resources brings a sense of fulfillment that’s truly unparalleled. Every day, I have the privilege of empowering individuals with the information and tools they require to engage with their communities, advocate for their rights, and effect positive change. Witnessing the impact of this connectivity, where people find their voices and unite for common causes, is not just a professional joy but a personal passion that drives me to keep doing this work
My connection to public schools:
My connection to public schools runs deep as I am a product of this essential system. I am profoundly grateful for the privilege of experiencing a diverse educational environment where teachers, principals, guidance counselors and classmates both resembled me and brought a range of perspectives to the table. This rich tapestry allowed me to develop a nuanced understanding of the world around me. It inspired me to become an English teacher, driven by the desire to continue connecting young minds to the windows and mirrors of the world through the power of words. I firmly believe that every child in our public school system deserves the opportunity to fall in love with learning in a way that resonates with them, ensuring that their educational journey is both enriching and transformative.
What I’m bad at:
What I’m bad at, if I’m being honest, is saying no. I have an inherent desire to be everywhere and do everything with everyone, driven by a genuine eagerness to contribute and connect. However, I’m learning the importance of discernment and the power of saying no when necessary. Taking breaks and managing my commitments wisely allows me to be more impactful when I am present and fully engaged. This self-awareness is a valuable skill I continue to develop, recognizing that sometimes less can truly be more, both for myself and the people and projects I deeply care about.
This image represents why I work at 50CAN:
A chain gradually transforming into a flock of birds soaring freely into the boundless embrace of a setting sun is a visual metaphor capturing the essence of freedom. bell hooks asserted that “education was about the practice of freedom.” As an advocate at 50CAN, my mission resonates with this profound concept. I am committed to ensuring that all children have the opportunity to embrace education as their pathway to liberation, recognizing that the form this education takes must be as diverse as the individuals it serves. Just as the chains in the image give way to the soaring birds, my work is dedicated to dismantling barriers and opening doors, allowing each child to find their unique flight towards freedom through education.