The United States celebrates the birth of the great Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., in January and Black History Month in February. While we celebrate civil rights progress, we do so as public schools continue failing generations of Black and brown children.
We celebrate civil rights this year in reflection of 2020, one of the most challenging years in modern history.
King’s holiday and Black History Month highlight the value of exemplary, courageous leadership in the face of seemingly unmovable opposition.
It’s been said leadership is simply the ability to influence, to convince others to accomplish what they think they would not, nor could not, do.
All of us are leaders in one way or another. And, because we are diverse people, with diverse backgrounds and experiences, our solutions are generated through diverse, influential relationships. Since the killing of De’Von Bailey, and through subsequent protests last summer, I was proud to see ordinary people utilize these relationships to exert their leadership and achieve extraordinary, real change.
Concerned groups of intergenerational citizens from different ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds fearlessly flooded the streets, occupied space in front of police stations, and gathered at City Hall in protest.
Citizens of our community made their voices heard, confronting local government officials face to face to demand justice, and equality in the age-old battle for civil rights. And we didn’t stop there, we went all the way to the state capitol propelling police officer accountability by enacting SB-217 into law.
With some of this battle behind us for now, the one that may be most important of all is yet to be fought, namely criminal injustice of the miseducation of Black and Brown children.
While some of our children are gunned down, many multiples of those tragic numbers are being dumbed down, resulting in unconscionable levels of incarceration, single-parent homes, unemployment, criminal activity, and death.
Dumbing down Black children has been, and continues to be, a sordid chapter in our country’s history.
America has purposely, often by design, denied Black children access to quality education.
Yes, there are some exceptions, but consider the following facts that should no longer be swept under the rug.
According to the CMAS scores published by the state of Colorado’s Department of Education, 77% of Black students in grades 3-6 in D-11 can’t read and write at grade level and 85% cannot add or subtract at grade level — let me say it a different way — more than 3 out of 4 of black students are failing in their most formative years.
Hispanic children fare only marginally better, with 72% failing to read and write at grade level and 77% failing to perform at grade level in math. In Harrison District 2, 67% of Black students fail to read and write, and 76% fail to do math at grade level.
Do these numbers exist because Black and Brown children are genetically inferior and cannot learn?
Or is it by design because there is no consequence for the failure of the system to educate them properly? Olympic City USA? Where are the champions to fight for a proper education for all children?
Why do we continue to tolerate and accept this horrific atrocity?
We should be outraged as parents, families, and fellow citizens and we must demand better!
Citizens, some by choice, others by force, continue to support these broken school systems through tax increases (mill levies) with no accountability. We also elect school board members, term after term, who do not demand improvement. This level of failure is an atrocity; however, it is within our power to force change.
King did it 60 years ago, and we can do it today. Now is our time to put meaningful action behind our words, because spouting mantras like “children are our future” is offering, at best, empty, toothless platitudes.
If we look truthfully at where our children are right now, we can eliminate the Alice in Wonderland fantasy that one day it will all work out.
As disastrous as is the failure to educate our children, the results with all students in third-sixth grades are not much better – in D-11 62% do not perform at grade level in English and 69% fail in math. While some of our youths are being arrested, the minds of others are being molested. While some of our youths are being incarcerated, the minds of many more are being castrated.
To remain silent, passive spectators to this undeniable injustice is immoral, unethical and criminal. It makes us accomplices and enablers. Like anything else in America, some things will not change without protest.
Malcolm X once said, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” It is time for us to demand better, and to take control of our children’s futures by taking action! Nothing less than the futures of our kids, our community, and our country are at stake.
King’s education helped him realize the power of his dreams. Our children deserve an education that will empower them to realize theirs.
The Rev. Promise Y. Lee is the founder and senior pastor of Relevant Word Christian Cultural Center, a multiethnic ministry in Colorado Springs.