[column type=”1/3″] [/column] [column type=”2/3″ last=”true”] For me, it was Mr. Randall E. Raymond.

During my sophomore year at Cass Technical High School, Mr. Raymond shared with our class that he was working on a project to determine the impact of lead exposure on students attending Detroit Public Schools. It was topic that I found interesting, and when I returned during my lunch break to learn more, he did something truly exceptional.  He asked for my help.

Mr. Raymond cautioned that helping with the project would require a significant commitment of time and energy. I would have to spend Saturday mornings learning how to use complex geographical data tools. [/column] [clear]

The process and technologies were daunting, but I jumped at the chance. Before long, I was learning alongside professionals from the public and private sector, gaining skills that helped me to secure internships and jobs throughout my graduate school career.  More importantly, Mr. Raymond trusted me and believed in me, and in turn, I believed in myself and succeeded.

Growing up in Detroit Public Schools, it was teachers like Mr. Raymond that showed me what opportunities existed to better my future, my family, and my community. They set me on a path to be successful in college and beyond.

As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, I helped to found Intellectual Minds Making a Difference (IMMAD), an ACT prep program whose purpose is to help eradicate the racial achievement gap in Southeast Michigan, empower Detroit area high school students, and nurture their desire for academic success. More than a decade later, the program is still going strong and I’m proud to still be involved.

After graduating in 2004, I moved to Philadelphia and taught special education for two years as part of Teach For America, a national nonprofit that works in partnership with communities to expand educational opportunities for children facing the challenges of poverty. Since that time, I have earned master’s degrees in education and urban planning, and worked in various roles in affordable-housing development, education consulting, and school administration in both Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

I returned to help establish the Detroit region of Teach For America in 2010, and I’m now proud to lead more than 300 Detroit teachers as the executive director of Teach For America’s Detroit region. Our corps members work in partnership with veteran educators across DPS, the EAA, and local charter schools to build the academic foundations our students deserve. They are a diverse and dynamic group of individuals consisting of both recent college graduates and experienced professionals from across the state and the country.

My experiences in DPS and Teach For America have helped to shape my career goals and professional viewpoints, chief among that we need passionate, capable leaders in the classroom to help our students reach their highest potential. We also need committed DPS alumni from across all sectors and generations to lend their time and talents to our schools so that they may also serve as mirrors for our students as to what they can achieve through education.

In Detroit, teachers like Mr. Raymond have the potential to impact the lives of so many students and families and contribute to the continued revitalization of our city. He was that person for me, and we should all strive to be that person for our children today.

Tiffany C. Williams is the executive director of Teach For America – Detroit. Reach her at tiffany.williams@teachforamerica.org.