Southern Methodist University's Youngest Law Graduate Is Fighting for Education Equity for Black Children
A 19-year-old teen, Haley Taylor Schlitz, is making history as Southern Methodist University's (SMU) youngest law school graduate. As she prepares to walk across the stage, communities watch in awe and celebration. She hopes the biggest takeaway is that all Black children deserve the support to thrive in the education system.
Taylor Schlitz started graduate school at 16 years old and settled on the Dedman School of Law at SMU, after being accepted into nine law schools,
The school system hasn't always recognized her brilliance. Taylor Schlitz left the public education system after her grades—which were usually high—started falling unexpectedly in 5th grade. Her mother felt that she wasn't being challenged enough but the school's talented and gifted program didn't see her potential. Her parents responded by withdrawing her from school and homeschooling her. Taylor Schlitz was done with high school by 13 and graduated from Texas Woman's University as their youngest student on record.
As she moves closer to her goals, she continues to advocate for Black children. She believes more students could thrive, as she did, if they were given resources and support.
Taylor Schlitz told Kindred by Parents that her parents value and prioritize education before other activities—and they always have. They've supported her and her siblings with love and faith in their potential.
"Without their support and dedication, my siblings and I would not have had the opportunities we have had," she says. "They also have ensured that we had time to explore our non-academic interests. I appreciate how they ensured we could explore everything we ever wanted to explore."
Those early experiences informed her dedication and willingness to fight for educational equity for Black youth. Through the years she's done many things, including being one of the keynote speakers for the opening night of the National Association For Gifted Children Convention, being selected to participate in the American Civil Liberties Union's Teen Summer Public Policy Program in Washington, DC, and being featured by Beyonce as one of her This Is Black History 2020 honorees. "I hope that I can bring my passion for addressing education equity issues and help facilitate a program that focuses on the legal advocacy needs of underserved students and their families in accessing gifted education programs," she wrote in a 2018 Medium article, entitled "Sixteen."
Taylor Schlitz's story is another example of what's possible when we believe in our children and support their dreams. In the three years she's been in law school, she has used her platform as a public speaker and respected thought leader to discuss equity in talented and gifted programs. She's even co-authored a book with her mother, The Homeschool Alternative to provide families with suggestions for using a homeschool mindset to benefit Black children in America.
She was elected to serve as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in June 2020 at 17-years-old. She was one of the youngest delegates present. She also shares her passion for policy and advocacy efforts at conferences and on social media profiles.
She wants Black families to believe in their potential even when the school system fails to support them. She says it's obvious that Black families cannot depend on our schools—public or private—to ensure their children learn in a welcoming and loving environment.
"There is overwhelming data showing that Black boys and girls are disproportionately disciplined. Georgetown Law has done an in-depth study showing how Black girls are adultified in our schools." she says. "Add in lack of resources and access to advanced education opportunities such as AP courses and gifted and talented programs, and we see that Black students face serious barriers in our education system."
She says Black families must be aware that the education system wasn't created with the intention of helping Black youth to reach their full potential or ensuring that Black children have opportunities to thrive academically. "We must become our own advocates, demand equity, and be willing to supplement the educational needs of Black children," said Taylor Schlitz.
That means being uncomfortable with accepting "no." Taylor Schlitz says she's inspired by Vice President Harris's statement that she "eats no for breakfast" and the stories that Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson shared about being told it was too ambitious to aim for Harvard and become a judge. She's experienced this, as well.
Taylor Schlitz wants Black children to keep pushing toward their dreams despite the people who tell them "no" and try to limit their vision. "I would like every Black boy and girl to know that you have the potential to chase your dreams and that you should never allow others to tell you are not capable or unable to thrive," she says. "We must learn to 'eat no' for breakfast and make our own paths."