The holiday we celebrate this coming Monday had its origin at a time when the United States was still very much a divided country. In the aftermath of the Civil War, “Decoration Day”- as it was originally called - was observed in only the northern states. Union veterans’ organizations called for the decoration of only the graves of those who fought and died for the Union. Not until after World War 1 was “Memorial Day” designated to honor Americans who died fighting in all of our wars.
Throughout the one hundred and fifty-one years since the United States was reunited into one common country, we have strived to eliminate any fragments of being separate and unequal in all aspects of American society. During this time, there have been a number of seminal events that reshaped the social and political fabric of America. Most are not as well-known today as they were at the time they occurred. Many have not even been mentioned in history textbooks. Yet, they were significant as to how they forced America to look at itself; and define freedom, equality, and our way of life.
One such event took place sixty-two years ago this month, when the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education ended legalized racial segregation in all American schools. The impact of the following words – “In the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” - resonated far beyond the classroom as it provided impetus and momentum for the Civil Rights Movement, and the later passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In the ensuing years, our nation should be able to stand together proudly and marvel at all that has been accomplished to break down barriers to ensure that ALL our children have an opportunity to be participants in today's knowledge economy. Yet in truth, the pages of history have been turned back, and what is old, is now new again.
In addition to voluminous studies and reports citing growing disparities in the achievement gap, school funding, and disciplinary actions relating to Black and minority students in comparison to their white peers – the following headline appeared last week in news outlets throughout the county:
“Judge orders Mississippi school district to desegregate, 62 years after Brown v. Board of Education.”
As an organization fully committed to improving the achievement outcomes of all students, we are all too aware that many public education systems around the country provide fewer resources to schools serving low-income and disadvantaged students. We also know that strong preconceptions exist that due to some students’ socio-economic circumstances; it is assumed that they will not finish school, will not find a decent job, and will never go to college.
Our Vision and Mission is in many ways linked to the precepts established by Brown v Board of Education, as our work is committed to ensuring equal educational opportunities for all children. So it is essential for all of us to understand that this commitment is not simply a collection of words for marketing purposes. It is who we are, and what we stand for. Therefore, even in the course of our hectic daily workplace activities, we cannot lose sight of the role we play in positively impacting the lives and futures of thousands of young people.
Consider as we honor and commemorate the more than 1.3 million Americans who paid the ultimate price fighting for our country; that there is no racial designation or income status noted on their grave markers. At the moment they were giving the last full measure of devotion to their country – there was no “Separate” – there was no “Unequal” - just “Americans”.
Together, we are a piece of thread in the massive fabric which is America. Let us do all we can to eliminate “Separate” and “Unequal” from the educational lexicon; and in doing so, honor those who gave their all to guarantee the founding principle of our nation that “All Men Are Created Equal”.