Black History Month is regarded as a time of reflection. A time to appreciate the contributions of African-Americans who believed in individual sacrifice for the benefit of the community. African-Americans who understood that sometimes you must forfeit personal gain for broad advancement. African Americans who were so committed to visions of the future that they were willing to toil in life’s fields, knowing that they wouldn’t participate in the harvest.
In these times of reflection, I’m often reminded of my own family. My grandparents and great grandparents who didn’t have access to the same educational opportunities that I now take as given. Nonetheless, they had access to a vision the transcended generations to those of us who would come after them. In their vision, my great grandparents and grandparents recognized that advancement comes from freedom, freedom from truth, truth from education and education from access.
And yet equal access to education has not been fully realized. Education reform remains on the political agenda as little more than rhetoric. It amazes me that there is so little continuity across our public school systems. The reality of the current system is that a decent education only comes with a “decent neighborhood”. The stratification of educational access is a natural reflection of income status polarization.
In general, areas that have the greatest financial means have the best schools, the best teachers, the best education.
A short time ago I was giving a young friend of mine a hard time for not studying more for his middle school classes. “How come I never see you with your books?” I prodded. His response was that students in his class were not allowed to bring their books home, because the school didn’t have enough of them to go around. How can one compete in the global economy when one can’t even bring his books home to study?
So as we celebrate Black History Month and reflect on the advances we’ve made because of the sacrifices of those who came before us, we should not be satisfied with harvesting the fruits of their labor. There remain many whose access to education remains limited. We therefore must continue to search for ways to improve educational opportunities, not for ourselves, but for those who will come after us. So that all of us can have access to truth that sets one free.
“It is precisely because education is the road to equality and citizenship, that it has been made more elusive for Negroes than many other rights.
The walling off of Negroes from equal education is part of the historical design to submerge him in second class status. Therefore, as Negroes have struggled to be free they have had to fight for the opportunity for a decent education.” (Martin Luther King Jr. March 4, 1964)