Last month, the nation celebrated the 57th Anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision known as Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka which dismantled the legal premise for racially segregated schools in theUnited States. As a conscious American, but more so as a public education advocate, I commemorated the occasion but refused to celebrate it. Not surprisingly, some people were a bit dismayed about my adamant stance to commemorate but not celebrate. After all, I am a direct beneficiary of this decision having been somewhat of an 80’s desegregationist student who attended a predominately white suburbanConnecticut school district for 12 years. But it is precisely for this and other reasons why I was motivated to make this one woman silent protest on May 17.
The Brown vs. Board of Education decision brought sweeping changes to the nation’s education system. The Supreme Court concluded that “in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.” But even with the court battle won, it took presidential involvement — and the National Guard in some cases — to allow black students to enter white schools. That historic decision should have set the course for all students to receive the same education.
Fast forward to 2011 where the single most challenging issue in the American education system remains the disparity between the accomplishments of black/brown and white students. 57 years after our parents and grandparents struggled against seemingly insurmountable odds for the rights of their children to have a quality education; we are asking some of the same questions as the ones precipitating that movement: Why are communities of color still struggling with these huge disparities in the education system? Why are our children still attending crumbling school facilities with overcrowded classrooms, outdated text books, limited arts, science, and physical education programs and barely existent support services? Why is it only 47% of black males graduate from high school? Didn’t the justices of the Supreme Court decree that education is “a right that must be made available to all on equal terms?”
People have asked me how many candles must there be on the cake before I will be willing to celebrate. Fifty-eight? Sixty? Sixty-five perhaps? My response: when Americalives up to its promise of leaving No Child Behind, and all students, regardless of their race, ethnicity and socio-economic circumstance are being equally served, then I will eat the biggest slice of cake on the table including some of the icing.
But these victories will not become realities unless we become involved. There is much we can do to influence the changes needed in our educational system. We can increase our involvement in our local schools and PTAs. We can participate in the political process by calling and writing our elected officials, holding them accountable for the education systems they help to create. And if our voices fall on deaf ears, let’s elect new leaders who will hear us. We can write letters to the editor, circulate petitions and participate in community and civic organizations, block associations, and church groups. We can advocate and we can demonstrate. Let us do whatever it takes to make our voices heard. It is the way that women suffrage was won and how the civil rights movement was born. It is the way that we changeAmerica.
As I look back at the impact Brown vs. Board of Education decision and the civil rights movement made on the educational opportunities afforded to me, I am re-energized by the possibilities of what the future can – and must – hold for others. History has shown us that collectively we can be agents of change. So, join me today not to share a slice of cake, but to join the growing group of parents, students, education advocates and concerned citizens that are joining forces to demand that every child have access to an excellent education in a quality school.
If in a dream I should meet Thurgood Marshall or Linda Brown, I must be able to comfortably look them in the eyes and say, ‘I have done my part.’ I have stayed the course and now today is the day we shall indeed overcome. We must reenlist in the battle for our children’s education to make this dream of “we shall overcome” a living reality. Then will the fires of my discontent be quelled and I will be the first in line to say, cake please!
Glynda C. Carr is a Principal at Liberty Street Capital