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Opinion | Samuel Acevedo

An open letter to Felicity Huffman

Felicity Huffman leaves federal court after her sentencing in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal, Sept. 13. Elise Amendola/AP/Associated Press

Dear Felicity,

Right about now, you are contemplating a new chapter of your life, one you likely never imagined when you launched your acting career: a stint in jail.

I am sure the prospect of serving time is sobering enough without a nationwide cacophony of opinions over what was the fair and right sentence here. Some say 14 days is a mere slap on the wrist and that Judge Indira Talwani should have put you behind bars for a month — or even a year. Others, like singer John Legend, question what is to be gained with you serving any time at all, saying “no one in our nation will benefit from the 14 days an actress will serve for cheating in college admissions.”


What matters now, really, is this: What do you do once out of prison? You have an opportunity. You could do something that would alter the lives of thousands of youths and their families. Something that would turn your “mess” — as they say in prison ministry circles — into a “message.”

Here’s my idea: Start a fund, a charity, to help close the achievement and opportunity gaps keeping thousands of black and Latino students from achieving a college education. Become their national champion.

When confronted with our failings, faith calls us to repentance: a sorrowful admission that this is not who we want to be, not what we were born to become. You demonstrated that when you tearfully declared yourself “deeply ashamed” of what you had done. It then calls us to restitution: a determination to restore what we have taken illegitimately, and leave things better than they were before. You demonstrated that when you said — sincerely, I believe — that you want to make amends.


But making amends requires asking, “Who did I wrong?” and “How can I make this right for them?” The true victims of this crime are the thousands of students of color already facing nearly insurmountable hurdles in order to achieve, even without a national admissions scandal adding more obstacles and stealing already rare opportunities. Many Boston Public Schools students of color face homelessness. Or an opioid epidemic virtually at their doorstep. Many have experienced hardships inconceivable to their peers in the suburbs. Ironically, those experiences will produce the superbly courageous, resilient, relentless leaders, leaders this nation is in dire need of – if we can only provide them access to a college degree.

They are budding leaders like Sebastian Parra. Sebastian — one of 200 first-generation BPS seniors completing the Boston Higher Education Resource Center’s Passport Program and enrolling in college this fall — is a freshman at Lesley University. But he almost didn’t get there. Sebastian was already a high school sophomore when he arrived from his native Colombia speaking almost no English. By his senior year, despite a host of personal challenges, he was class president and an honor roll student at East Boston High School, and taking dual enrollment college courses. But it took Sebastian’s undaunted pursuit of his dream — and Lesley’s visionary Urban Scholars Initiative, which creates a cohort of first-generation freshmen and supports them with scholarships — to finally get him on campus.


We applaud Sebastian’s efforts to overcome the hurdles he confronted. But you could help so many others overcome them. Your charity could finance an army of passport coaches who connect with first-generation students of color in BPS high-school classrooms to help prepare them for the many challenges of college. Or it could fund other mentors and coaches to find, equip, and encourage more Sebastians.

It could benefit organizations like LetsGetReady! that provide free SAT help to students of color to help even the playing field legally and fairly. It could contribute to the $400 million endowment Superintendent Brenda Cassellius wants to launch for BPS, to close the wealth gap for students like Sebastian, providing them savings for college, and bringing them closer to a college degree.

You gave each of your girls the middle name “Grace.” Grace is the opportunity to turn our shame and brokenness into a triumph of redemption that could change the world for the better. This is that opportunity, Felicity. Make this your grace.

Samuel Acevedo is the executive director of the Boston Higher Education Resource Center (HERC) and serves as a Cochair of the Boston School Committee’s Opportunity & Achievement Gap Task Force.