Rallying for Equal Education

Norma Porter | 5/21/2009, 12:59 a.m.

Minister Janice Jenkins rode a bus from Augusta, Ga. to Jena, La. in 2006 to attend the Jena 6 rally and took her two children and 13 grandchildren with her. Jenkins said that when Rev. Al Sharpton called people to the District to rally for education reform, she packed up her family and rode on a bus for 15 hours to attend the Education Equality Project€s (EEP) Call to Action rally.

As it rained off and on, approximately 5,000 people, mostly African Americans, gathered at the White House Ellipse to advocate for equal educational rights on Sat., May 16, which was the 55th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

In 1954, the Supreme Court decided that the €separate, but equal€ doctrine was unconstitutional and forced schools to allow Black and White children to attend school together.

Rachel Noerdlinger, senior vice president of communications for Sharpton€s National Action Network, said 75 buses carried people from over 21 cities and more than five states, including Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and New York, to the rally.

€It€s important that the children not only hear us talk about how important education is, but they come and see for themselves,€ Jenkins said. €They need to be a part of it because it€s for them. They€re going through it now.€

The EEP, under the leadership of Sharpton and New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, organized the rally.

Sharpton announced that he would participate in a partnership and five-city tour with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

€All of us are excited about trying to push an agenda dealing with equality in the schools around the country,€ Sharpton said.

€Clearly, Mr. Gingrich and I don€t agree on many issues. But the Secretary [of Education], Mr. Gingrich and I are going to go to four or five cities together talking about education, about the need to close the gap, and our different views.

€We hope it€s a healing experience to bring divergent views together to come to a consensus to save American education and to really give everyone equal opportunity. I don€t think a better day could be the kickoff than the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education,€ Sharpton said.

Gingrich said he was attracted to Sharpton€s commitment to improving schools in America and that learning is the Number One civil right of all Americans in the 21st century.

€They should have the opportunity to be educated well enough that they can earn a good living in an increasingly competitive world market, and be an informed citizen,€ Gingrich said. €We have millions of adults who have been left behind, who don€t know enough, can€t read enough, can€t get a job. We have to think through a learning strategy so that every young American and every older American is learning enough to get a good job and have a good future.€

Gingrich also said the country needs to implement a better solution to better equip young people who get into trouble to re-enter their communities and lead a successful life.

The nation is not €where it needs to be€ 55 years after Brown v. Board of Education, Duncan said.

€We don€t just have an achievement gap, we have an opportunity gap, a teacher-quality gap, and parental involvement gap,€ Duncan said. €We have unprecedented resources, [and] $100 billion to put into education. We got a president who is passionate about this. We have leaders from many different walks of life that are stepping up. This is a moment in history and we have to take advantage of it.€

Minnijean Brown-Trickey, a member of the Little Rock 9 who integrated Central High School in Arkansas, said the state of America€s schools is a tragedy.

€It makes me sad because 55 years later we€re still looking at inequality,€ Brown-Trickey said. €We still have inequality in funding. That€s what we were fighting for in 1957 and in 1954 and that inequality is unacceptable in a country that spends so much money on weapons and war.€

Nine-year-old Aryelle Jenkins, the granddaughter of Min. Jenkins, is a fourth grade student at the C. T. Walker Traditional Magnet School in Augusta, Ga. Aryelle said she sees Blacks struggling to attain better educational opportunities.

€African American people are struggling to get a good education and they can€t get that with the environment [of schools] today,€ Aryelle said. €Today, Brown v. Board of Education is very important to me because it shows how valu[able] my education is.€