âBecause of my personal history, I decided to get into social work,â Kurup said. âI developed a passion for supporting children living in poverty.
After getting married and having two sons, Kurup realized that raising his children in the richest country in the world gave them resources and opportunities beyond his own grandfather’s wildest dreams.
âI started my career in Troy as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate),â Kurup said. “I learned a lot about the impact of policies on children of color living in poverty.”
the Dayton / Montgomery County delegation to Denver, Colorado in 2017 after winning the All-America City Award for working in the community to address racial and other inequalities. Kurup (center) is shown with (LR) City Commissioner Christopher L. Shaw, Allison Knight, Dayton Metro Library, Robyn Lightcap, Learn to Earn Dayton, Geraldine Pegues, Montgomery County. CONTRIBUTED
When Kurup’s youngest son was getting ready for school, she got the opportunity to change gears with a position at Learn to Earn Dayton. She became the Director of Early Learning, leading community-wide learning initiatives, and developing and launching the local racial equity education program.
âI worked with great partners in Dayton and learned a lot about the community,â said Kurup. “I hadn’t fully appreciated the impact of race on child outcomes until then.”
Kurup also wanted to give back to the community, so she volunteered to work with kindergarten students in Northridge on reading.
âOne day I was reading to five kids and one of the little girls was won over by my accent,â Kurup said. “She wanted to know why I was talking this way.”
Kurup showed the children a map, showing India and explaining that people speak differently in different places. Kurup then explained that she came to Ohio to go to college.
âI asked the kids where they wanted to go to college,â Kurup said. âA little boy said he wasn’t going to college, he was going to jail!
This comment stopped Kurup in his tracks. She was desperate to find out what had happened in this child’s life. She began looking at data from Montgomery County and specifically the differences in children’s outcomes based on race and gender.
âI started educating myself and have been on this journey ever since,â Kurup said. “I really believe that all of our children should have the same chance to be successful and that the color of the skin should have no impact.”
Today, Kurup works for a Cincinnati-based organization called “StriveTogether” as the Senior Director of Learning and Activation. She has held this position for three years.
The StriveTogether (LR) Team Front – Simon Tam, Jeri Duncan, Ritika Sharma Kurup, Janice Ungruhe, Aiesha White, Bridget Jancarz, Robin Wright, Oumaima Karimi, Brittany Speed, Monica Barnett Rear: Brandon Crowley, Colin Groth, Andy Freeze, Jennifer Blatz, Davida Ogbar, Jack Theuerling, Dawn Mathis-Braden, Heidi Black, Akshayaa Venkatakrishnan. The organization serves all children “from cradle to career” by supporting 70 communities across the country to bring lasting change to children of color and low income by providing them with educational opportunities. CONTRIBUTED
âThe StriveTogether model is at the service of every child, from cradle to career,â said Kurup. âWe work with 70 communities across the country.
StriveTogether bases all the work they do on data, particularly looking at the impact of race and poverty. In 2017, CEO Jennifer Blatz named racial equity as the key to quality education.
âIt’s a great environment for me and for my colleagues to learn and lead,â said Kurup. âThis is not the job that many organizations do in practice. “
By working with their network to dismantle current systems that often lead children to failure, the StriveTogether team aims to create lasting change.
âWe are looking at what the data is telling us,â Kurup said. “And we ask why.”
One of the long-accepted notions that the organization strives to change is the idea that children living in poverty are neither able nor willing to succeed in school. Kurup said funding for schools is not fair and it also makes a big difference in results.
âMy kids are in Centerville Schools, and it was an amazing experience both in the classroom and outside,â Kurup said. âThey have access to many opportunities that have shaped them. “
Kurup was recently recognized by the Ohio State University College of Social Work Alumni Hall of Fame with a Distinguished Career Award for professional achievement.
âWhat made a difference for my kids was my own parents’ decision to persevere and go to college,â Kurup said. “There is a ripple effect across the generations, and there are a lot of kids who may never go to college because of the lack of opportunities and resources available to them.”
Contact this contributing writer at [email protected].