I wanna talk about three things: movements, public education and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words foreshadowing what would be an ongoing and urgent fight. Follow along as I connect all of these thoughts.
Most of the “brethren” think that education should equip them with the proper instruments of exploitation so that they can forever trample over the masses … Education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life.
Twenty years later in his book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?,” Dr. King said:
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late … Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity … This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos or community.
Keep following me.
Earlier this week I hosted an education town hall called “Our Kids Can’t Wait.”
It came on the heels of the release of brightbeam’s report, “The Secret Shame: How America’s Most Progressive Cities Betray Their Commitment to Educational Opportunity for All,” calling out progressive cities for not being able to close opportunity gaps between Black, Latinx and White students as successfully as conservative cities and, in general, my frustration and impatience with the snail-paced crawl towards equity and quality in public education.
Between the panel and Q&A session, I kicked off a conversation with all of the attendees by saying, “This town hall isn’t really about how we got here—It’s more so about where we’re going from here”—similar to the title and message of Dr. King’s book. My goal was to set a “solutions-based only” tone for the talk we were about to have.
From there, we had a raw discussion with ideas and solutions for mobilizing our communities to resolve the most pressing issues.
A few days after the town hall, it dawned on me that this movement where I’m trying to unite all marginalized communities around educational advocacy and activism in Chicago has to be bigger than the historic disparities and failed progressivism in my city.
It needs to be a nationwide effort led by all groups impacted by an unjust system because this exploitation young Mr. King spoke of in 1947 still exists in 2020. But today, we refer to the “brethren” as the racially and economically privileged, whose interest lies in maintaining the status quo.
We—Black, Latinx, poor, disabled and all other marginalized groups—are still the trampled masses, struggling to access quality education that will enable us to become more efficient—because efficiency matters in attaining self-determination and liberation.
And finally, we are indeed faced with the urgency and the fact that Dr. King’s tomorrow is today.
Parent and education activist Natasha Dunn asked, “If the schools are miseducating Black boys for their entire K-12 experience, how can we expect those same students to want to return and become teachers?”
To answer Natasha’s question, we can’t. We owe it to those Black boys and students like Amari Roberts to advocate for their classrooms to be filled with teachers who are committed to delivering quality education and inspiring them to one day do the same.
They need and deserve schools equipped with the best resources to support their academic and social development and they need leaders who will honor the values of their politics.
And as one of the town hall attendees noted, we have to acknowledge the importance of and activate the village in supporting the self-efficacy of our youth in public schools to continue to grow the self-determination of our communities.
So no, our kids can no longer wait for educational justice and they shouldn’t have to. Not the kids in Chicago, Oakland, Washington D.C., Minneapolis or any other city experiencing large opportunity gaps. We don’t have another 50 plus years to address the urgency that Dr. King spoke about in 1967.
This is a national call to action appropriate for the end of Black History Month and the beginning of a new movement. It’s time to choose and we have to do it right now—chaos or community?
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