“What makes you think that my black daughter will get a better education sitting next to white children?” Spencer was my best friend back in Buffalo, N.Y. We both were teachers at P.S. 53, an all-black school in the area where racial demonstrations erupted in 1968. He asked his question when I informed him that I was doing background work for a lawsuit against our school district for de-facto segregation. After I had recruited large numbers of people to join the NAACP, I was invited to be on their Board of Directors.
I had no answer for Spencer’s question. The assumption about de-segregation after the Brown vs. Board of Education, Supreme Court decision, was that “separate is inherently unequal.” And, of course, it is. But, Spencer asserted, black children being in the same room with whites doesn’t make them better writers, readers, or citizens. The quality of education matters. Resources matter. Experienced, well-trained, and motivated teachers matter. Escaping the cycles of poverty matters.
Spencer asserted that the reason black families were insisting that their children “integrate” white schools was about having equal access to quality schools.
At George Floyd’s memorial, Al Sharpton kept repeating, “Get your knee off our necks!” Equal access to quality education, health care, adequate housing, properly compensated employment , access to capital, nutritious food, and courtesy and respect reflect a belief that all lives matter. As long as conscious and sub-conscious forms of exclusion and double standards in hiring and policing persist, then the cry “Black Lives Matter!” will long endure.
The foundation of “civilization" is justice. Its flowering and beauty are love, fellowship, and genuine appreciation. Effort is needed. Life-long commitment to our shared humanity is needed. Let’s embrace it together.
James Haslip, retired educator
Member, Napa County Board of Education
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