In Pursuit of Education: The Fight for Equality In Our Schools

There are few things in this life that I support more than gaining an education. Having been raised in a home where books rivaled my collection of dolls and teddy bears (trust me, I had quite the collection), I am a passionate supporter of school and learning. Recently, two news stories regarding black women and education made their way onto the national stage. In Connecticut, Tanya McDowell was sentenced to twelve years in prison for "stealing" her son's education. McDowell, who was homeless at the time, used an address different from that of her last residence to have her son attend a good school. Not too far away in Rochester, New York, 13 year-old Jada Williams was reportedly harassed out of school by teachers and administrators alike, for likening the educational system to a form of modern-day slavery.

After my anger and disgust at these stories subsided, I was able to sit back and currently reflect on what such occurrences are telling us about the current time we live in, in regards to education. The three observations that I have taken from there are:

1. According to the system at hand, we -- being people of color, particularly black people, are not supposed to have access to an education of substance,

2. We are not allowed to complain or publicly take note of it, like Jada Williams. Nor are we to do something about the barely acceptable education most of our children are receiving à la Tanya McDowell.

3. If we are to do anything mentioned in point 2, there will be consequences to pay (i.e. doing time in prison, or getting kicked out of school).

If there was ever a ripe time for communities to come together to plan a massive school reformation movement, the time is most certainly now. Our children are being marginalized and stifled in the very hands that we are entrusting with their growth and development. In a June 13, 2011 U.S. News report, it was written that national high school graduation rates for Blacks and Latinos stand at about 57%, in comparison to 78% for whites, and 80% for Asians.   And of course, most of us know of the schools-to-prison pipeline that has claimed so many of our Black boys and men, and now our girls and women (Black women are the fastest growing prison population).

The only way we can remedy this malady of society is through community efforts. We cannot simply say things like, "More Black parents need to attend Parent/Teacher meetings" or "Kids today don't want to learn." Such statements do more harm than good. Those of us who do not have children are still responsible in making sure that each child receives a great education. We all must stay involved. A community effort can be in the form of being a reading volunteer. So many of our children are not reading at their grade level; taking a weekend to read to elementary children or helping high school students with their college essays can do a world of good. We must also stay afloat of the education legislation that is being passed in our cities and states. We have to make sure our teachers and educators are being well taken care of, that there are more than enough books in classes and that students are receiving fresh, nutritious food in their cafeterias.

Our children become the testimonies we leave to the future. If these testimonies are to continue to reflect the sentiments of Jada Williams in her essay, than we as a group and society have failed miserably. Our children are our most valuable assets, and it is truly up to us to protect them and make sure that they receive the best educational care possible.

Valerie Jean-Charles is a 23 year old community servant and writer in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a BA in Political Science from Fordham University. Follow at @Empressval to join her never-ending conversations about everything and then some.

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