From the tender age of 9, Class of ‘89 ASH alum Erin knew she wanted to change the world. The lightbulb moment took place during an unforgettable lunch conversation, where she and two other classmates found themselves perched between the President of Egypt’s wife and famous singer John Denver in the school cafeteria, just talking, eating and sharing stories. She thought to herself in this moment “I am no different than these people, someday I am going to change the world”. The passion for change was lit in that moment inside of her, and it continues to burn today as bright as it did back then.
Erin’s story starts in the US, as a baby born in 1970’s Minnesota, to a young Caucasian mother with an older Black father; at a time when interracial couples were not at all common, in fact they were not supposed to exist at all. At birth Erin was given to the local orphanage to be placed up for adoption. Fate had it that a teaching couple, Dorothy and Bruce Adamson, would adopt Erin and make a family together - an interracial family - another uncommon sight where they were living. When listening to Erin recount her childhood in this TedX talk
- you can begin to understand that even in her innocent youth, she was considered “different” by so many of the people in her community. When Erin was 5 years old, Bruce and Dorothy realized that they needed to change their environment fast, knowing that they needed a more inclusive environment to raise their child. Erin recalls when Bruce came home one day and said “we are moving to the Netherlands!” where he and Dorothy would both teach at ASH. It was a country Erin (at that age) had never heard of, not even understanding what an ocean was or the possibilities that lay before her across that big mass of water.
When the Adamsons arrived in the Netherlands, ASH was located in Scheveningen just 2km away from the renowned World Forum, bringing together people from all over the world to the modest school corridors. Erin remembers the visits of presidents like Bush and Jimmy Carter and having classmates whose parents were ambassadors. In these moments she learned that her origins clearly had no impact on her life path - a motto that she now recites as “It doesn’t matter where you started, it just matters where you finish”.
After that lunch conversation with the president’s wife and famous singer, she went straight to her teacher Ms. Parlier and said “I've decided what I want to do! I want to change the world! What do I do next?” Her passion even then was unwavering and Ms. Parlier helped to teach her that to achieve greatness, you must do great work. As she grew older, Erin realized that each of her decisions mattered and had an impact on the life she wanted to lead.
She worked very hard at school; by the time she was 12 she could speak English, Dutch and French fluently, and also made the conscious decision to never try alcohol, drugs or cigarettes. Erin played Varsity level sports in her junior years of high school, continuing to captain varsity soccer, basketball and baseball in her senior year - a clear reflection that her choice of working hard helped her reach her dreams. In grade 9 she had a clear vision of her future - working as either an international lawyer or a linguistic translator for the UN - something where her commitment to peace and her passion and dedication to change the world could really materialize.
This all changed in grade 10, when speech and debate teacher Roberta Enschedé asked Erin, as one of the few Black girls in her grade, to speak at the first ever Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute. Comfortable on the playing fields and courts, Erin’s footing in public speaking was not so steady and besides, she had never heard of Dr. King. At that time, there were no books about his life in the library, MLK day had never been celebrated before, so she had to do her own research by borrowing books from the local university library to understand who he was and his message. It took only a bit of reading for Erin to become massively inspired by Dr. King; she was deeply moved by his life story, commitment and passion for education and above all non-violent methods to induce change, something she wanted to emulate in herself. She went on to speak not just at the first MLK tribute, but at all of them until she graduated from ASH in 1989. Today, he is still one of her heroes; she spoke passionately about Dr.King’s influence in this video
for a virtual 2021 MLK tribute.
When she graduated from ASH, Erin had a vision for herself and for the environment that she would live in, wanting to move back to the US to go to college. She knew what she wanted, and thought that life in the US would reflect “mainstream” elements she saw in Fresh Prince of Bel Air and the Cosby Show - both popular TV shows at the time - that featured Black families as the focus. Her view of America was optimistic and hopeful, like many of the Europeans around her, and so she accepted a generous academic scholarship from Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia; a sister school of the prestigious Princeton. The inclusive environment she worked hard to flourish in did not prepare her, however, for what she would be presented with in a wealthy suburb of Philadelphia - where signs that said “no colored or Jews allowed” were still displayed with no remorse.
The next four years Erin lived the harsh reality that there was still huge segregation in America; that her 3.9 GPA, titles as captain of varsity teams, and 4 languages didn't matter - that she must have been one of the quota “10 Black girls” the school needed to admit each school year. She was challenged every day on her talents, her knowledge and education, and the core of belief in herself - to which after the first year of school she stopped believing in her own dream that she could, in fact, change the world.
Thankfully fate stepped in again, with Erin’s love for basketball taking her to play, as one of the only females, on the street courts in the hard neighborhoods of Philadelphia. Here she met so many young Black men, people who “looked like her”, not having finished high school or any aspirations to even acquire a high school diploma. Their stories reached her core; many did not believe they would live past the age of 21 due to victims of gun violence; that they had no running water at home, that their schools were falling apart; their futures had no hope or silver linings. Talking to these young men, she flashed back to the speeches of Dr. King that she had read in high school and realized at 19 years old, if she could make a difference in the lives of these young men, helping them get a chance to go to school - she could change the world, one kid at a time. That is the moment when Erin decided she would become a teacher.
Fast forward to today; Erin’s list of accolades, accomplishments and achievements is great and many, working hard for each and every one; all with the same goal to be an agent for world change. She says “Education is the greatest civil rights issue today; admittance into (US) schools is driven by zip code, languages spoken at home and the color of your skin.” Her work today helps to break these barriers, to make education accessible for every student; to make the systems work for all students in school spaces. She has worked as a teacher in all grade levels, as a school administrator at state and district levels; ran for state education superintendent; working in school environments across America. She received recognition at the White House in March of 2013 as a "Champion of Change” and was Washington State PTA’s “Outstanding Educator” in 2015 and has had the opportunity to meet influential figures like President Obama.
Over the last 4 years, and particularly since the pandemic, Erin has been focused on sharing her story as an independent education consultant, asking questions to adults and students alike about racial justice: “What does racial justice look like in the school spaces? What would it look like if we were doing it right for every single student in our systems?
” From her TedX Talk “Bridges
”, to star studded online panel discussions with big name companies like Disney, Erin has been able to facilitate open and transparent conversations about race and justice, helping inspire our youth to “dream bigger than yourself, to become a person who will help change your generation.
” In these platforms, she puts forth the challenge for students to look at their schools and really see the people who are on the fringes of the school system: who can they help, how can they make their lives matter? Erin asks students to simply think about injustice that is occurring in their own neighborhoods, using their social media tools to support a cause and help make a deeper change.
One thing that echos with everyone who listens to Erin speak is her passion for treating each human life with value and dignity, even if they don’t share the same opinion or who doesn't value her with the same value she has for them. Inspired by a Dr. King’s quote
that he wrote while in Birmingham Jail, Erin says “I want to be an extremist for love - who is being treated less than human, or receiving and experiencing justice, where they can't thrive or be their best selves - how can I step in and be part of justice for them. When I think about love that is what I mean - see the humanity and use the tools that I have aquired and my passions to help people be their best selves.”
This is how Erin continues to help change the world - one child, one person - at a time.