THE BLOG

Quality Education Is the Civil Rights Issue of Our Time

Mar 11, 2014 | Updated May 11, 2014

"You may write me down in history with your bitter, twisted lies, you may tread me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I'll rise." The Success Academy Bronx 2 dance team opened up their performance with these words. These beautiful words are from one of my favorite poems, "And Still I rise," by Maya Angelou. Angelou's poem expresses her deep faith in her own strengths and a people's strength during the Black Power Movement.

I cannot think of a poem more befitting to the Parent Rally to Albany on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. I am a teacher at Success Academy Bronx 3 and was at the rally. I was not there chanting, "Save our schools!," at the top of my lungs because I care about my own job security. I was there, because to me, access to quality education is the civil rights issue of our time and something I take incredibly personally.

Mayor de Blasio's decision to evict children -- predominantly black and brown children from low-income communities -- hurts me to the core. Not only am I a teacher in such a community, but I also am a black woman who grew up in a community in which children faced similar obstacles to those of my students. I know firsthand that although quality education is a universal right, most do not have access to it. Children at Success Academy (a public charter school) do.

Working at the Academies is challenging, as is being a student there; the days are long and arduous. We have tough deadlines, as do the families. We sweat the small details. Yes. The work is tough. But the reason we are so committed to that work is because it is what is necessary to close the widening opportunity gap. Our scholars are given rigorous literacy and math instruction. They have teachers who are held accountable for literally everything. They are given structure -- something a lot of them lack in their personal lives. They are given love and a community, which supports their triumphs. Ultimately, they are becoming lovers of learning.

As I rode the bus to Albany, I could not help but be inspired by the hardest working members of our team -- the families. On the ride down, which started at 7:40 a.m., our families shared their past frustrations with a broken traditional public school system and in the joys they had in seeing their children excel at Success Academy. As our bus continued north, our families also shared in laughs and smiles with one another in the way that old friends or families laugh with each other during intimate gatherings. These are the people who would be affected if de Blasio's heartbreaking determinations are allowed to stand.

As I think about the bleak possibilities of what could happen to our own school, my eyes are filled with tears. My heart breaks, as I think about my students who screamed just as loudly as me," Save our schools!" who will not have anywhere to go but their low performing zoned schools. Their parents have told me stories of these schools, and their other children who attended there. Their children who had a lot of potential but were not given a rigorous curriculum. Their children who needed extra help, who didn't receive it and were just pushed through the system.

I am a Democrat. I fundamentally believe that the government should provide us with a quality education, but in our current system, it does not. Right now, public charter schools do. I am appalled that the mayor is politicizing the future of our children's lives (by our, I mean low income black and brown communities).

Public Charter schools, like Success Academy, provide the only exceptional option families of color have in a city, which values wealth and whiteness above all else.

I am nervous about the future of our schools, yet our march to Albany, fueled by the passion of those directly affected -- the families, instills a sense of hope in me, and I am confident that we too, will rise.