As a small child, I remember attending preschool at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Greensboro. At the time, I didn’t understand the historical significance of the school or how fortunate I was to be able to attend. In light of America’s current debate over school choice, I now certainly understand—and appreciate—the significance of my parent’s choice when I was too young to make one of my own.
The black community has a long history of independent school choice. Two of the strongest voices in favor of these schools were the pioneering black philosophers George Washington Carver and W.E.B. DuBois. They spoke to the black community’s responsibility for its and its children’s progress while also emphasizing the structural challenges unique to the black community. They believed these were challenges that could only be solved by the unique talents and perspectives of the black community. They also believed it was imperative to create their own systems within the overall system to ensure their children were able to learn and have opportunity.
The need for black families to educate their own was not unique to the time of Carver and DuBois. Blacks are the only subgroup over the past 60 years that have been excluded from choice–not because we are prohibited from that access, but because the initiative has not existed en masse to seize the opportunity to educate our own.
Throughout the 20th century, black churches served as the primary education center for black children. Inadequate funds and extreme lack of resources often plagued neighborhood schools, leaving the communities they served searching for different education options for their children. Unfortunately, the conditions that made these schools necessary a century ago still exist today.
While we certainly can’t blame teachers or principals for a child’s inability to learn or get to school on time (or at all), everyone must be invested in building capacity for our communities. This includes options for high quality education seats, but also tackles the cycle of poverty and essential wraparound services that help kids come to school ready to learn. Schools of choice created by—and for—the community have always focused on educating the whole child because they have a vested interest in that child’s whole life, not just the time they spend within their walls. Like years ago, the black community must address all of the systemic issues facing its children, which is why school choice was needed then—and why it’s still needed today.
There’s never been a more politically active time in American history than right now, and if we listen to the people, it’s easy to see that we want better outcomes for our kids. According to NorthCarolinaCAN’s 2015 State of Education Report, fewer than 40% of black students were on track for college and career readiness in 2015. If we’re ever going to close the achievement gap, we must give them the best K-12 education in the state. Knowing not every public school will meet the needs of every child, we must build the capacity to ensure every child comes to school ready to learn and expand the number of high-quality schools they can choose from.
Black History Month calls on us to look back at our history, but it also compels us towards the future. I was fortunate enough to have parents who could choose a great future for me, but not all NC children can be so lucky. Join me in telling legislators that our state’s future depends on, and is steeped in a long history of, the expansion of school choice.