Saving Our Children: A Civil Rights Issue!
By Edward Chisolm (October 8, 2009)
I was blessed to attend the Harlem Children’s Zone Practitioners Conference last week in New York City. It was an awesome gathering of 1,400 participants and a waiting list of 400 we are told. I have attended many national conferences in my 25-year professional career, but this one ranks at the top. The conference speaking headliners included: Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, U.S. Department of Education; Melody Barnes, President Obama’s Domestic Policy Advisor; Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder & CEO, Policy Link; Kenneth Chenault, Chairman & CEO of American Express; Marian Wright Edelman, Founder & President of the Children Defense Fund; and of course, Geoffrey Canada, President & CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ). We were also graced with the presence and wisdom of Mayor Otis Johnson who served as a panelist (along with Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, NJ and Ron Sims, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), one of the highlights of the entire conference. Rarely, do I come back as inspired and re-energized as I did last Tuesday night. I am normally tired and irritable. But not this time! I couldn’t wait to get back. All of the speakers were outstanding, and maybe it was atmosphere, or maybe it was the seer gravity of the moment.
It was clear from the conversations. People understood that the majority of us would not be one of the 20 Promise Neighborhoods that the Obama Administration wants replicated, using the HCZ as the leading model. We will go after one of the 20 slots, but that wasn’t the point of the conference at all. The point was (is), gaining the knowledge, experience and political will to save our children. We were asked to commit to creating a “Promise Neighborhood” in our communities, even if we are not selected.
Dr. Edelman said it best, “We do not have a money problem in America. We have a values problem and a priority problem in America.” I think the same holds true for this community. Some children are not as valued as others, and they are certainly not a priority. Geoffrey Canada remarked during his talk that the plight of our most vulnerable children reminded him of what happened after Hurricane Katrina. He said he watched on television where scores of black folks were stranded without electricity, food and water for days that probably seemed like years. And Canada stated that after three days he realized that nobody was coming to save those people!
The same applies to our children. If we are waiting for others to come and save our children, we will be sitting and waiting just like the victims of Katrina. Nobody is coming! Our children, at least the poor and neglected ones, are not a priority for some people. This is why the obtainment of an education is a civil rights issue. It’s about our children becoming full-fledged citizens of this nation. Without a quality education, that’s not going to happen for millions of children. They will be relegated to the rolls of those suspended, those expelled, those dropped out, and those on their way into the prison pipeline. Nobody is coming for those children. They are not a priority for some people. This is also why I was especially inspired and re-energized. Not that I needed more juice in the first place, but it’s also good to get a booster shot. Well, I got mine. We all need a booster shot.
All I know for sure is that I am even more determined now. I don’t care that some people don’t care about our children. I don’t even care that some of our children are not a priority for some people. All that matters is that we care about them. All that matters is that we vow to do “whatever it takes” to fight for our children. Without a quality education, they are doomed. As the generation of the Talented Tenth, we should not let the death and rejection of our children be our legacy.
Once upon a time when we were colored, we were denied our civil rights. We fought. We bled. We struggled, and many of us died. But we gained our rights to be citizens of this republic. Well, our children have rights, too. They have a right to be given the very basics of the opportunity to participate in this society. That is supposed to be what America stands for. We are bound by a civic and moral duty to ensure that opportunities are accorded to the least of our citizens. We are also admonished by a moral obligation (not to mention a moral authority) to advocate on behalf of all children, but especially poor, disadvantaged children. As far as I am concerned, denying a child his or her right to obtain a quality education is equivalent to denying them their civil rights. Denying them that, it then becomes equivalent to issuing them a death sentence. We simply cannot afford to stand by, like they did during the aftermath of Katrina, and watch our children die a living death.
Where is our dignity? Where is our fight? Where is our spirit? Where is our backbone? We have to understand, black folks, that nobody is coming for them. It’s our watch now. Dr. Martin Luther King…gone! Rosa Parks…gone. W.E.B. Du Bois…gone. A. Phillip Randolph…gone. Medgar Evers…gone. Thurgood Marshall…gone. Ella Baker…gone. These pioneers who fought and died for our rights are dead and gone. But we are here. We have to put on and display the courage of our convictions. No matter the foe. No matter the fight. No matter the odds. We have a legacy to carry on and a war to win.
It was the English Philosopher, Edmund Burke, that said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Well, we will not be silent and we will not go quietly in the night. Fear is not an option. Putting our children on death row because they are denied a quality education is nothing short of evil. So, if you were waiting for the next series of civil right leaders to fight for social justice, we are they. I am more determined, more resolute, more serious, more conscious, and more committed to ensuring that all children get what they deserve—a quality education and an opportunity to live the American dream.
We will have a Savannah Promise Neighborhood whether we are government funded or not. We need to be the catalyst for change in this community. Call it a social revolution if you want to. It’s now or never. It’s do or our children die! The fight is on and it’s real. Martin and Rosa are not coming back. We are now the new vanguards of this powerful moment. We have to help the nation’s poor children achieve their dreams and reach their full potential. Don’t be mistaken and don’t dare question our resolve. I am thoroughly fixated on this mission because I am convinced, like Canada, that nobody is coming to rescue our children. We have to do it or it simply will not get done.
Black Love, Black Peace & Black Power!!!