I saw it for the first time this fall – a granite pillar towering above the ever bustling city. This September, Teach for America gave me the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. for the Congressional Black Leadership Conference (CBLC). On day one, we were shuttled to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall.
As I stood at the foot of this towering structure, two big questions jumped out from the dozens spinning through my mind. First, I thought, “What did it take for an African-American man to be honored in this way, in a nation so deeply impacted by racial inequality?” Secondly, I asked, “What did the network of individuals who supported King along the way look like? Who were the foot soldiers fighting and risking their lives for the cause?”
America’s children have suffered the injustices King battled for far too long. As an eighth grade teacher, I see these inequalities on a daily basis when I drive through the neighborhood near one of Nashville’s affluent private schools on the way to the school where I teach. The children I teach have not had access to the same opportunities as their peers just down the road. As a result, inequality is perpetuated and the cycle continues.
Each day, as an educator, I hope that I will be able to instill in my students the drive to be lifelong learners – to understand the inequalities and what it will take to overcome them. If, as Dr. King famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” we cannot wait until tomorrow and we cannot focus on yesterday. We must work today to close the achievement gap and work towards a future in which we can say with conviction that a zip code doesn’t determine one’s educational destiny.
While at the CBLC, I came to realize that for every Dr. King, there were dozens of foot soldiers fighting for the cause. And just as no individual could win the struggle for civil rights, no one person of even group of people will make educational equity a reality in this country. The fight for equality will take the best of so many of us – individuals from all sectors and walks of life, standing for the cause. Only when we come together in this way will we begin to truly make progress.
Every day in my classroom, my kids show me what is possible. On this day, as we celebrate the man who gave his life to do this on a national stage, I am inspired to think big about what I will bring to this movement, how I will push past my own limitations, and the ways in which I can empower my students to do the same.