Sept. 25 marks the 50th anniversary of the historic day when nine young teenaged African-Americans walked bravely and boldly into Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas to secure the dream of an equal and quality education for themselves and eventually for all of America’s children. They have been referred to throughout history as the Little Rock Nine, and the hatred and hostility they faced symbolized many in this country’s reluctance to desegregate America’s public schools ordered by the passing of the landmark 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision.
That day also represented the hope for many African-American families who wanted to ensure that their children would no longer be deprived of a quality education. Parents were emboldened to stand up alongside their children to unjust school systems, as well as both local and federal governments against any policy that maintained or set in place a separate or unequal public school system.
Over the years, the Little Rock Nine have been celebrated for their historic walk into Central High School and for the successful careers each of them achieved thereafter. Here, in the Nation’s Capital, home to Little Rock Nine member Ernest Green, who has led a successful career in the public and private sector, and witnessing his continued active engagement in the community, is a constant reminder that the fight for quality education never ceased, but is a constant struggle for America’s children, particularly black and brown children.
Today, D.C., along with every state across the country, is in the final stages of developing its latest draft of education policies to be enacted under the new Every Student Succeeds Act. ESSA is an update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), a civil rights law signed in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and later the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) signed in 2002 by President George W. Bush. President Barack Obama signed ESSA into law in 2015, following through on demands to create a better equal opportunity law that focuses on preparing all students for success in college and a career.
When the Little Rock Nine courageously walked into Central High School, parents, educators, and lawmakers who believed in what their actions stood for were encouraging them every step of the way. Those nine students and countless others who took similarly brave steps towards a quality education in cities across the country including the District (Bolling v. Sharpe) should encourage parents, educators and lawmakers to be part of history today and to become actively engaged in setting the new education policy that will impact the lives of children for generations to come.