Three recent articles in the news are of interest. One, in the Christian Century on-line magazine, reports on the 50th anniversary of the Kenner Commission. Another, in The Charlotte Observer, is a short article on the death of Ms. Linda Brown, and the third is a special article to the Observer by Mr. Frank Martin. All three articles deal, in one way or another, with public education and our segregated society.
The Kerner Commission was a presidential one charged by President Johnson to explain the racial unrest during the summer of 1967. It found that the country was, in fact, “two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” “Fred Harris, the lone surviving member of the Kerner Commission, recalls that he and his colleagues operated with a simple assumption: ‘Everyone does better when everyone does better.’” The Commission gave suggestions to change the content of our society, but fifty years later, we still struggle with the same issues.
Many Americans may have heard of the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in 1954 concerning Brown vs. Board of Education and how it overturned the policy of “separate but equal.” However, how many Americans know that the collective case centered around a nine-year old black girl who only wanted to attend the Topeka, Kansa school a few blocks from her home? I suspect that Ms. Brown, like so many white and black pioneers, are only abstract names, not real people like several professional athletes are to so many.
In the third article, Mr. Frank Martin, the chairman of the board for Sugar Creek Charter School in Charlotte, writes a thoughtful article on how Sugar Creek Charter School, along with other charter schools in North Carolina, is educating its “high poverty, all-minority school” students. To paraphrase Mr. Martin, the schools he mentions have three fundamental strategies: The belief that all students will succeed; that intangible life skills along with academics must be taught; and each school must emphasize instructional excellence. Mr. Martin concludes with the thought that public education can end poverty in the lives of students and change communities.
Ms. Brown and her parents lent their name and energy and wish to Mr. Thurgood Marshall and his team of attorneys to fight for a basic right. Mr. Harris and the other members of the Kenner Commission shared a basic, human belief. Mr. Martin writes of three basic expectations for our schools. Yet, here we are these many years later still struggling with the same issue of separate and unequal.
Ms. Brown and her family are an important thread in the fabric of our county. They, like others, were real people who strove for equality. We need to know their history in order to understand the influence they had on ours, just as we need to know all the general history of our country so that we can appreciate where we are today. This means that we need to know the work of such groups as the Kenner Commission and what they produced. Through that study we will encounter such members as Mr. Harris and his words concerning the commission and what they still can mean for us today. And all of this study and learning can only be done through education. Thus, we come to Mr. Martin and the successful work with the poor students of Sugar Creek Charter School.
Having grown up food deprived (hungry) in a single parent home with five siblings, I have a sense of the struggle of many of today’s children. I remember still, over sixty years later, of being denied because of my name and lack of my status in a white world. However, I was fortunate to have some teachers such as Ms. Cheryl Turner, the director of Sugar Creek. I also had a mother who loved me but demanded of me. The teachers and parent in my life changed the course of it, and if we follow Mr. Martin’s “three fundamental strategies” for educating every child, our country will be what the Kenner Commission desired. Our children will know and value the work of such families as the Browns and work to make the words of Mr. Harris a reality.