We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
BY A’DORIAN MURRAY-THOMAS
I’ve always liked the term “running” for office. It invites the sense of urgency necessary when engaged in this work of placing the right people in positions of power to advocate for youth and families.
In Dr. King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, he reminds the audience of the “fierce urgency of now,” a call that still rings true today. Our country’s complicated history with educational inequality has contributed to millions of young, Black, and Brown dreams being deferred or denied. To move forward, we must confront the past, and as we prepare to enter a post-pandemic reality, conversations addressing issues of educational access and equity must center the voices of children, educators, and parents.
In my own city of Newark, New Jersey our decades-long, grassroots battle resulted in our regaining local control in 2019, after nearly 25 years of state takeover –the same year I made history when at the age of 23 I became the youngest woman ever elected to the Newark Board of Education.
Under the leadership of Superintendent Roger Leon, Newark Public Schools boasts one of the highest graduation rates the district has seen in 20 years. We are investing in Career and Technical Education, hiring more social workers and school psychologists, and increasing the number of bilingual educators and male educators of color. Thanks to the community’s cries for implementation of the Amistad Act, Black history is taught in each K-5 classroom in Newark Public Schools.
Yet, we continue to face enormous challenges. Students are still recovering from nearly two years of remote instruction. Some levels of growth are evident, but academic gains on standardized tests do not reflect the outcomes we want for our students. The social, emotional, and mental health needs of students who had to jump back into a “normal” school schedule, building, and structure when their lives have been anything but normal, have left schools desperate to address issues of climate and culture to meet students’ complex needs.
Now more than ever, we need people on and off local School Boards who remain vigilant and steadfast in their approach to governance. An educator, advocate, and school board member, my philosophy is simple: equityand excellence.
We need people in leadership who are unafraid to asktough questions, willing to get their hands dirty, and who, like me, awre courageous enough to stand up for what’s right– even if they have to stand alone.
Angela N. Mincy, a former principal of Science Park High School–the highest-ranked and most selected magnet school of choice in Newark–currently serves as Superintendent of the nationally recognized and largest Black-led independent charter school network in New Jersey, Marion P. Thomas Charter Schools. I asked her to tell me five things she believes Newark students need.
Unable to share just five, she stated, “Newark students deserve a quality education. They need to learn about rights and duties of citizenship to become civic-minded young adults. They need classes that teach empathy, financial literacy, leadership skills, spaces for recreation outside of school, internships, and a variety of resources.”
Elected officials, educators, parents, and community leaders who profess to love children must continue to ask ourselves: What more can we do to move our schools forward? The answer to this question requires brutal honesty, fierce urgency, and deep and continuous investment in the futures and dreams of our children.