It was 46 years ago that an assassin took the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.. It was April 4, 1968. He gave his life implementing a plan for a better future. He had a plan then. We should have a plan now. Here is a plan – educating our way to a brighter future.
Since that shot rang out in Memphis, TN taking the life of Dr. King, the community has wandered without any real goal. Although many have tried to rekindle Dr. King’s dream, there was no real action plan that could meet the complex needs of African-Americans.
Education is the key. Education will cheat the prison system of Black lives. Since prison occupation is a for-profit business, the need to maintain prisons relies on maintaining fresh convicts. Dropping out of school is a straight path to prison. Prisons use primary school test scores to determine how many prison beds will be needed in the future. Failing grade school classes leads to frustrated children who never make it to high school.
Trouble comes fast. Juvenile detention soon leads to adult incarceration. Young people who stay in school learn lifelong skills needed to be productive adults. A high school education increases future income. A diploma can break the chains of poverty and increase self-esteem.
School can offer a safety net from an abusive home. Children can use school to escape. Run away to school – not to the streets. The FBI reports that many runaways are dragged into prostitution and human trafficking within 48 hours of leaving home. This Plan is to increase school graduation rates for Black children to 95%. That’s right. Ninety-five percent of Black children must graduate from high school.
Am I naïve? Public schools are under-funded. The government really doesn’t care about educating Black children. These children are too far gone. My response is simple. We underestimate our power. We have done far more with far less than this. We changed the world without weapons.
We are artists and athletes, politicians and preachers, corporate leaders and constructions workers. We have the skills we need to better educate our community. We have had these skills a long time. In 1787, the same year that the U.S. Constitution was drafted Prince Hall, a free Black man, was advocating for the education of Black children in Boston, MA. He was a civil rights activist before such a term existed.
In 1854, a little Black girl named Sarah Roberts was the plaintiff in the first education case to desegregate public schools. A Black lawyer represented her in court. There was no government investment in a Black’s child’s future. Yet, they understood the power of education. They created programs their children needed. They invested in themselves through education. Volunteers can change the world.
Volunteers can coach a team, teach dance classes, or Spanish. Sports teaches children team-building, social skills, lessons in winning and how to lose without violence. Sports can be taught by those high school and college athletes who remember life lessons learned from football, baseball, tennis or soccer.
Adults are needed to start a Boys Scouts and Girls Club. Start in your living room or church. Missionaries going to Africa may be overlooking African-American boys and girls right here in need of their attention. After-school programs can include tutoring sessions to keep children from falling behind in school. Summer school does not have to be created by the Department of Education, or have stigma and shame.
Help children before they become frustrated, left behind, and drop-out. Any college graduates can contribute their knowledge to tutoring children. Share that education with children. Don’t limit your valuable knowledge to the workplace. Education has more value than a paycheck. Martin Luther King said, “
The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” Education elevates the entire community. Start a young persons’ book club. Include books on African as well as African-American history and achievements.
You don’t have to be an activist to be active in this education Plan. Become a week-end warrior. Each family needs an education advocate to make sure all grade cards are reviewed, parent-teacher meetings are attended, and schools have a second telephone number when there is trouble and parents are at work.
Education advocates can be family friends or relatives. Share education with children as well as adults. Get that GED. Finish school if you stopped. Start college now. Attend school online if time and money are tight. You are not too old or too young to have an education. That’s the Plan.
We are going to educate our way to Dr. King’s dream. What role do you plan to play? Dr. King said: “If can’t fly run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk the crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” The life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ended 46 years ago. His work lives on. The movement is forward. Let’s educate ourselves into a better future.
Gloria J. Browne-Marshall is a writer covering the U.S. Supreme Court, the United Nations, and major legal cases. An Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at John Jay College (CUNY), she is the author of the book “Race, Law, and American Society: 1607 to Present,” and a playwright. Twitter: GBrowneMarshall