Given the issues that affect African-Americans, specifically, and other minorities and the poor in general, the release of the movie Selma could not have been timelier. Selma is a movie that is more than just a work of historical significance, it offers a prescription for addressing the challenges of Twenty-first century America.
The focus of African-Americans has been directed to the two most recent incidents in a long history of violence against black males on the part of law enforcement officers. In the midst of the violence that erupted in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere and the impassioned plea for justice, many African-American men and women, including many in positions of prominence, adopted the symbolic gesture of raised hands. It was a brilliant move that not only symbolizes the unity of the black community and its supporters on this issue but also provides a visible reminder to African-Americans and others to make good decisions when stopped by a police officer.
I will continue to believe that the overwhelming majority of our nation’s law enforcement officers are dedicated professionals who do their best to keep the peace in every sense of the word. The problem, of course, is that young people who encounter the police in the community or on the streets are no more able to differentiate between good cops and bad than a police officer can distinguish between a young black person who is up to no good and those who are minding their own business.
What we need from both sides is restraint. Sadly, recent attacks against police officers only puts them all on edge, making restraint more difficult to sustain and that much more necessary.
Prior to the two most recent incidents of violence against young blacks by the police, citizens have been coming together and are engaged in an effort to bring an end to the violence that pervades so many American cities. Often, the violence such communities are forced to endure are violence of gang- and crime-related attacks of blacks on blacks or Hispanics on Hispanics, etc.
If the African-American community can capitalize on the unity and cohesiveness created by the issues cited above and channel the anger, they could apply the lessons learned from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the hundreds of other civil rights leaders who changed American society.
One of the goals of the civil rights movement, beyond campaigning for laws against discrimination, was to make the American dream a reality for all children including blacks and other minorities. The fact that this movement changed America is an example of just how powerful such grass-roots movements can be.
Now, a half-century after the height of the civil rights movement, a significant population of African-Americans and other minorities are not participating in the American dream and neither are millions of poor white Americans. Let’s seize this opportunity to shout out a call to action to make the American dream a reality for all American children.
Once the laws of the nation were rewritten to insure that all Americans must treated equally under the law, the key to realizing the American dream for those not born into affluence has been a quality education.
Many American parents have lost trust and faith in both our systems of public education and the American dream much as they have lost faith and hope in our justice system. Because public education failed them, at least in their own minds, they do not teach their children that an education is the key to better opportunities and to a life out of poverty. They do not stress the importance of working hard in school to their children. The children of these parents arrive at school poorly prepared to succeed, academically, and with little or no motivation to learn.
Because of the level of distrust that exists for these parents, when their children have problems at school, they rush to the defense of their children. They do this because they do not believe the teachers have their children’s best interests in mind.
Many African-Americans and others believe that the schools discriminate against their children. There is a strong sense that the entire system of public education is racist. This is a belief that must be put to rest, permanently. Our public schools are not rife with institutional racism in which minorities have no chance and Fort Wayne Community Schools provides a perfect example. FWCS is led by an African-American superintendent, and is populated by African-American administrators, principals, and teachers.
Yes, racist teachers exist just as the U.S. is populated by many citizens who are racist. The overwhelming majority of public school teachers, however, are dedicated professionals who want all of their students to be successful just like the overwhelming majority of African-American men and women are law-abiding citizens and the majority of police officers want to serve the interests of justice.
As we speak, led by the corporate community and the federal government, Indiana and other states are aggressively pursuing strategies to not only weaken the bonds between communities and their schools, but are also weakening our public schools. These forces are attacking public school teachers and are blaming them for the problems in public education. It is clear that these are not strategies designed to address the problem of our poorest communities and our most challenged public schools.
This scenario creates a unique opportunity for minority communities to link forces with the public schools in their communities and with the teachers of those schools. In my next post I will propose a number of specific strategies. These strategies will be constructed on the lessons we have learned from the civil rights movement of the fifties and sixties.
The essence of that message is that if people want to change the world around them they need to accept responsibility for bringing about those changes rather than wait for someone else to do it for us. Many of these strategies have been detailed in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America.