Education: the last fight for civil rights

Modern day school segregation and the academic achievement gap looms as the last vestige of a nearly completed civil rights movement. If academic equality is our final battle, the saying ‘last but not least’ was never truer.

Academic performance of Black, Latino and those of all races in lower socio-economic ranks of this country are dwarfed by White, Asian and higher-income households. Startling statistics include the reality that Blacks and Latinos drop out of high school at nearly twice the rate of other students and that 90% of entering college freshmen the top 150 schools in the U.S.) come from the top fifty-percentile of households based on income.

It has not been since the 1950s that the African American community has organized in mass around education, specifically. Efforts then successfully culminated in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision, outlawing state-sanctioned segregation in American public schools.

Despite the diligent work of our parents and grandparents on this initiative, evidence suggests our generation has dropped the baton. Enrollment statistics reveal that, in several important ways, the school segregation that Brown vs. the Board of Education supposedly ended more than two generations ago remains intact today, in some parts of the country worse now than it was at the time of the decision.

How could this happen or rather, how did WE let this happen? In the 55 years since the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision, what happened to our focus on education?

Have we not observed the crumbling state of minority and low-income academic achievement? Why have we not rallied again? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that many of us continue to place our faith in big brother, especially since big brother is now led by a brotha.

When in the history of our civil rights struggle did we ever wait for public officials to come to our rescue? When did we stand by and allow for our destiny to be dictated by the ivory tower? We didn’t! We observed our dire situation, set an agenda, mobilized and changed the course of history.

Re-reading the incredibly moving Why We Can’t Wait written by Dr. Martin Luther King, which depicts the climate and strategy of the civil rights movement in Montgomery, Alabama in 1963, I realized that we still have time to turn the tide and pick up the baton that we have dropped.

The book reminds us that the blueprint for change still exists! Moreover, the blueprint is not legible to only a select few of chosen individuals, but written for any person with a passion to be effective in their community.

The term “activism” is often dressed up as something only a few of us are capable of doing but this is farthest from the truth – getting involved and creating change is something everyone can do.

It is the individual responsibility of everyone in the community to ensure that future generations are not retarded by a substandard education. While the road to academic equality may be long, the steps to getting started are simple.

Step One: Become aware of what drives education equality. Do you know what great community schools look like? What do you know about equality or inequality from your personal experiences? What are the education issues of the day? Take the time to think about and comprehend theses issues. Don’t just be aware, fully understand how issues directly impact our individual lives. This step is fundamental to driving the action.

Step Two: Allocate time and dollars to the causes that drive education equality (these two are not mutually exclusive). Once you fully comprehend how issues impact the well being of you and your family, you are prone to act. Identify organizations in your community addressing the issues you feel most passionate about and support them with your mind, hands and wallet. If there are issues not being addressed in your community, lead the effort to bring attention and change to them.

Step Three: Don’t wait!!! We should not wait for a plan to be handed to us, we must wait no longer to erase the inequities of education in this country. Otherwise, we bear the responsibility of not completing the most transformative movement of modern day…

It’s time for us to PICK UP THE BATON!!!