“I suspect that my lived experiences specifically influence my research focus and agenda. I am sensitive to making meaningful advances in education because I understand, in a very personal way, how transformative it can be.”
Amanda Wilkerson, who holds a doctorate in higher education from UCF, grew up in the Miami neighborhood Liberty City where oftentimes the power company turned out the lights. She remembers her father’s resilience, and how he transformed these moments. “We are having dinner by candlelight.”
“We had lots of candlelight dinners.” Today, roughly 43 percent of Liberty City residents live below the poverty line, and 27.6 percent of residents 25 and over do not have a high school degree. However, Wilkerson does not assume that factors such as level of parent education, economic status, or zip code determine educational destiny or propensity to succeed. “If that were the case, I would not be Dr. Wilkerson. I was at best an average student, whose parents managed to support five children in tough times, and with little money.”
Wilkerson says her parents taught her “faith in action,” and it is through these beginnings and her work with a long list of leaders in minority-student education, that Wilkerson attributes much of her success that led to her acceptance into the 11th Asa G. Hilliard III and Barbara A. Sizemore Research Course on African Americans and Education. The course provides early career scholars and advanced graduate students an opportunity to work directly with established researchers on questions and methods that inform studies on black student populations in education. Wilkerson seems especially interested in original research on black student success to improve institutional practices.
“I would like to be what I call a Woke Scholar — eager to highlight and investigate possibilities that form academic success with an awareness of the issues, but also widely sharing solutions that empower a course of action. It is illuminating our knowledge about how, with adversities, one can persist.”
Wilkerson also considers herself somewhat of a “new school scholar” because in addition to the traditional forms of research, she enhances her work and professional development through social media platforms like YouTube and Twitter. She follows educational foundations, associations, and educational thought leaders, including University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Jerlando Jackson and University of North Carolina-Charlotte Professor Chance Lewis, both experts in urban education and research directors for the course. Jackson and Lewis often share research and academic opportunities for junior researchers to gain knowledge, and when the two distinguished professors announced the course on Twitter, she recognized an opportunity to expand her knowledge and impact in the field.
“I am here and I occupy a space that is shared with talented thinkers. I have an obligation to demystify the puzzling contradictions regarding how a person like me can make it against all odds.” With her research and work in minority student education, Wilkerson shares a transformative hope, reminiscent of her father’s candlelight dinners.