This month’s Purpose Driven Woman is Jennifer Roberts. She is a wife, mother, and wonderful woman of God. She is the Founder and CEO of Versed Education Group, an organization dedicated to helping schools, school systems, and other education organizations begin courageous conversations about race and equity.
What was the path that lead to your purpose?
It was honestly a push from God. I was working in a central office position for a school district leading our race and equity work. The district went through a huge restructuring and my position was cut. I had the option of staying at the organization in a position that didn’t fit my passions or stepping out on faith and starting Versed. I never thought I’d be doing this now. But it was what God had in store for me. I’m happy with the choice I made.
What motivates you to do this work? What’s your why?
I’m passionate about equity for kids in education. For justice for all people of color really. But I think my motivation to do this work started with my brother. I grew up in Richmond, VA. My mom was a single parent and we grew up low-income. We had a public school education and my experience was so different from my brothers. I loved school and he hated it and so much of those feelings were a result of the way our teachers interacted with us. I think that was when I first began to notice some of the inequities in education for poor kids of color, particularly black boys. I ended up teaching 3rd grade on the Southside of Chicago and besides solidifying that I wanted to be an educator and not a doctor, that experience also helped me see first hand all the issues my students had to face on top of having to attend a school that had sub-par facilities and resources. So when I think about my why, it really is because I’ve seen the disparities up close and personal; in my own life and the life of my students. I started to realize that with all the reform efforts in education we were only making incremental progress and I knew a lot of that had to do with the fact that we don’t talk about the impact racism and oppression has on our schools, on the daily interactions between teachers and students and families. So I decided to start Versed Education Group to address what I see is one of the biggest hindrances to our success in education, and that is the ability for teachers to talk openly and candidly about race, identity, and equity and how it impacts the decisions they make in the classroom.
What were you afraid of?
Failure. Not having enough money. Not having the expertise. I could go on. I was scared. I won’t try to sugar coat that. But I had so many great women around me telling me I was ready for it, encouraging and supporting me. I knew that I had a support system that would continue to lift me up if I hit some bumps in the road. They haven’t let me down yet!
Why is the work of Versed Education Group so important?
My organization works with schools and education-facing organizations to help them have an honest dialogue about race and equity. I help them learn to analyze their systems, processes, and relationships for inequities and give them tools to shift to a discourse that is more just for students and their families. I think the discussion our country is having around race right now is long overdue. Most educators are not equipped to address the inequities in our education system. It’s not something you learn in depth in teacher preparation programs and it’s a dire need. We can’t expect to educate our children well if we don’t know how to value them and can’t speak confidently about our own biases. We can’t educate them fully if we aren’t aware of how our beliefs and assumptions, engrained in us from our experiences since birth, impact how we choose to teach them. It’s something we cannot continue to ignore.
How difficult was it for others (organizations) to recognize the value in the work you do?Race is the hot topic right now, so lots of folks understand the value in what I’m doing. What they usually don’t understand is how pervasive racism is in our education system and how hard it will be to change the way they do business. I think what I’m most careful to look out for is the organizations who truly want to do this work versus the ones that simply what to check the “race conversation” off of their list. If it’s just a fad to the school or organization, the work will be too hard to sustain. You have to really want to do it and be prepared for what you might find out about yourself.
The work you do is necessary across the globe. As you travel more, how do you ensure that family remains a priority?
I think I’m still working on doing this well, but I think it’s about specifically making time. For instance, my daughter and I have “girl talk” at night after she says her prayers with her dad. This gives her time to wind down and tell me about her day and I can tell her about mine. It’s something she really looks forward to. I need to be more intentional about things like that as travel gets heavier.
A lot people of people hold off on pursing their purpose, waiting for the perfect time. What would you say to someone who doesn’t think that they are at the right point in their lives to pursue their mission?
It will never feel like the right time. There will always be something telling you that you should wait. But I say pray and ask God what to do. If you see him giving you the push, prepare as best as you can and do it! God doesn’t give us visions without provision to carry us through. It may be tough at first, but you will thrive. Just do it!
What has surprised you the most about this journey?
How happy I would be. People see me now and all they say is that I look so happy. There are things about having your own business that are definitely stressful, but I get to wake up everyday and do what I love to do on my own terms. It’s a really beautiful thing to challenge myself in this way.
What does your daily relationship with God look like?
Honestly, I talk to God all day. I used to think I had to be formal in my prayers and if I wasn’t reading my bible first thing in the morning I wasn’t doing something right. But I’ve learned over the years to just be with God. Just talk to God. Just be grateful to God. So I do meditate and pray, but I mostly have casual “conversations” with God. I ask for guidance, I share when I’m doubtful and need assurance, I ask for peace in my life, I thank him for small wins and beauty and new mercies. I just try to be present and with God.
How do you find peace?
I’m working on finding peace more consistently, but I ask God for it and I meditate more now as well. Between prayer and meditation, I can center myself and find stillness, but this is a growth area of mine.
How do you keep God at the forefront of your life?
I think I remind myself that nothing I have would be possible without him. It’s easier to keep God at the forefront when you talk to God consistently throughout the day!
What have you learned about yourself?
I think what I’ve learned more over the last year is that I’m more powerful than I know. My words have power and influence. And with that comes great responsibility. I’ve learned that I’m strong enough to handle almost anything. This first year of business has also been one of the toughest in my personal life as well. When I look back over this year and see what I’ve come through it is only a testament of God’s grace. I’m thankful.
Can you share a scripture that is feeding your spirit right now and why?
My favorite scripture is Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” How wonderful is it to know that everything is already planned out for us? When I’m stressed I often remind myself of this. My steps are ordered. Everything that is happening TO me is also happening FOR me.