Starting around 1921, the oldest black fraternity in the United States, Alpha Phi Alpha, launched an educational movement, conveying the message of “stay in school.” Alpha Phi Alpha’s campaign was dubbed “Go-to-High School, Go-to-College,” instilling in our children and youth the importance of education and what education has meant for the black race over the years.
Also, the fraternity reached out to the black communities across the nation, passing out educational pamphlets, awarding prizes for essays on education and sending letters to every local pastor, urging them “to function in this movement with interest and drive.
Today, more than ever, we still have a great responsibility to instill in our children and youth the importance of education. Our history as a people is deeply rooted in education, and the future of our race is still dependent on the education of our young people.
As a community, going from neighborhood to neighborhood, we must strive to inspire black youth to stay in school, work hard and to commit to “reaching fro greater.” Educator Marva Collins once said, “There is a brilliant child locked inside every student.” Our parents, community leaders, churches and teachers must work together in raising strong children who must never settle for “just getting by.” To borrow from Deut. 6:7, these educational stakeholders must impart the message of the importance of education to the children “when thou sittest in thine house, when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”
During my 34-year career as a high school social studies teacher, I generally got what I expected from students. Not only did I convey high expectations of all students, I also expressed a belief in my students’ ability to achieve, and I still subscribe to the notion that if you work hard, you can get ahead.
Unfortunately, we have too many students who don’t know what success looks like. And there are schools with too many teachers expecting no progress in their students, succumbing to the media’s description of black students as underachievers.
The fact that blacks have above average rates of joblessness and incarceration makes it critically important for our entire community to emphasize the importance of education as the key to improving the future of our black youth.
Our schools must continue to prepare our youth to be part of the highly skilled, educated workforce, while working with local businesses to offer more training opportunities and more employment for ex-felons. It makes no sense for someone with a prison record to be marked unfairly for life. To paraphrase Victor Hugo, one who opens a factory door, closes a prison.
As we continue to move forward into 2014, not only should be we want to make this world a better place, let’s also seek ways to reduce the economic and social inequities that exist in Sampson County. Insisting on equal educational opportunities will be a good place to start. According to Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Education is viewed by man as the “great equalizer of the conditions of men.” And others have said that “the only thing more expensive than education is ignorance.”
We have to do more to help all our children experience educational success early and often, believing that if every child receives a good education, the whole society is much better off.