Lina Fritz is the Managing Director of Program Innovation at OneGoal, a college access and success organization that offers solution to make graduation for low-income students a reality.
We sat down with Lina to chat about Hyde Park, equitable education systems, and Chicago’s signature underdog spirit…
What drew you to Chicago?
I grew up in the deep south, so Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. My high school had a segregated prom back in 1999. I knew that when I graduated high school, college was my only chance to get out and I knew deep down in my heart that I was a city girl. So I applied to 10 colleges in big cities and the University of Chicago was the school that gave me the best financial aid package, so I moved to Hyde Park in September of 1999.
Where do you live now? Describe your neighborhood.
I love Hyde Park. I love the south side, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the city. There’s a bunch of new restaurants that have popped up in Hyde Park and they’re opening new businesses every year. There’s three parks basically within walking distance from my house in the backyard. There’s a lake right next to my house as big as an ocean. You just have everything down there.
What has it been like living in Chicago? What do you love about the city?
This city taught me how to fight for what I believe in. It taught me how to not stay silent in the face of injustice, that there’s power in our collective will. I think one thing that I really love about Chicago is its underdog spirit. Underdogs have a simultaneous inferiority/superiority complex. We’ve been unfairly labeled “the second city,” and yet we’ve embraced it with humor and grace by knowing who we are and accepting and celebrating that. When I saw that I thought: “this is me, this is my city.” This city gave me a new start, it’s where I found my voice. I learned that I was capable, that I had agency, and that I can make things happen. It’s the place that helped me grow up and turned me into an adult. It taught me how to drive traffic, I can navigate the Dan Ryan, I’m not scared and I put my big girl pants on, just like a regular Chicagoan.
What lead you to become a mentor and educator? Why is this work important?
Like many of the students in our program, I’m a first generation high school graduate and college graduate. My parents were immigrants who spoke very little English. I had a very transient childhood, I attended seven different schools between kindergarten through 12th grade. There was domestic violence and alcoholism in my home. In fact, my dad was shot and killed nine days before my 12th birthday when I was a kid, so I experienced a lot of trauma and instability as a child. I was lashing out at school, I was hurting in my academics, I was sabotaging my relationships, and throughout all of that instability the school system provided me with some semblance of consistency and safety and mentorship. It was my high school journalism teacher and my middle school principal who took the time to call out my potential and cultivate my gifts and hold me accountable to my hopes and dreams.
I joined OneGoal because it really leverages the power of a teacher in a classroom. It acknowledges that teachers can make a profound and lasting impact on young people in the program by providing identity affirming, culturally relevant coaching and guidance to students who otherwise might slip through the cracks. I get to tackle the problem of figuring out how to do that at the system’s level for as many high school juniors and seniors in our city as we can reach. I feel so lucky that I get to do that kind of work.
At the end of the day, what would you like to give back to the community?
In my career in education, I’ve learned that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. We’re part of a larger system that was not designed for the well being of all people in our nation. At the end of the day, I want to have contributed to our collective liberation by amplifying the stories that haven’t been heard. I want to co-construct and co-design with the community more equitable systems within our educational infrastructure, so that every young person in our city graduating high school has had the chance to excavate their gifts and talents, take hold of their own self agency, and pursue their greatest aspirations.