OAK PARK, Calif. — An Oak Park woman is using her master’s degree graduation photos to send a message: no matter where you grow up, you can make something of yourself.
Jaylyn Jordan grew up in Oak Park – a predominantly Black, culturally rich and historically disadvantaged neighborhood, due in part to racist practices that hurt people of color, like redlining and other neighborhoods’ racial covenants.
Jordan decided to showcase her beloved community in her grad pictures – from McClatchy Park and Boss’s Market to Fourth Avenue Park and the Oak Park Community Center.
“Boss’s Market-- so he has a store now, but growing up, he was a food truck,” Jordan recalls. “It was a big thing for him to become a store. It's like, ‘Wow, you know, (he) leveled up.’”
She’s also sporting a particular custom t-shirt in many of the photos.
“I wore this shirt that said, ‘Bad and Mastered,’” Jordan said, “because there's a song called, ‘Bad and Bougie,’ and I was like, ‘Well, I'm bad and mastered.’”
She said it’s not the typical graduation photoshoot, but it represents who she is and where she has come from.
“When you get your master's degree, you get hooded. It's literally a hood,” she said. “So I was like-- I know when I graduate, I'm going to take pictures, you know, in my neighborhood - places where I grew up - and let it (be) known, you know: I'm hood but I'm hooded.”
She got her undergraduate degree in rehabilitation services with a focus on special education counseling at California State University, Los Angeles, had a baby and then jumped right back into higher education, getting her Master of Science in Special Education, Specialization in Mild/Moderate Disabilities from National University earlier this year.
She’s using her degrees to better her hometown, serving as an education specialist with the Fortune School of Education. That’s a local system of college preparatory public charter schools focused on closing the African American achievement gap. She works at the middle and high schools in Elk Grove - Fortune Middle School and Rex and Margaret Fortune Early College High School.
She has a message for the young people of her neighborhood.
“Just don't stop. Like, the sky is the limit,” she said. “You may think you only have what's around you, you know what I mean? But you can go above and beyond that.”
Speaking of not stopping, Jordan said she plans on getting her doctorate.
“I'm the rose that grew from the concrete," she said, quoting Tupac Shakur. "Me being able to get my master’s and then now enrolling to get my doctorate, you know, like, I just want to show that more can come from Oak Park."
A lot of people hear “Oak Park” and think of Mozzy the rapper, Jordan said.
“I applaud him for getting out of the neighborhood and finding his path, but I just wanted to show a different light, you know, that you don't have to be a rapper to get out of the hood,” she said. “I wouldn't change my life for anything. I love being from Oak Park, honestly.”
She credits the high standards set for her by the culture at her alma mater - Sacramento High School – with part of why she is on this path.
“Sac High pushed you to go to a four-year college. That's all they talked about: go to a four-year college, four-year college, four-year college,” Jordan said. “So it was just like, you know-- this is what to do.”