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A Dream Deferred: The Future of African American Education

A Crusader Exclusive 

Part 1 of 3

By Danielle Parker

Last month, the Chicago Urban League released a sobering report titled “The Impact of Segregation on Education in a ‘No Excuses’ Environment,” which outlined the inequities at every level in the educational system in Illinois. While this report focuses on the state, metropolitan and district levels, it prompts one to think about what similarities in disproportionate funding exist at the federal level, particularly for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

During a recent meeting between the presidents of many HBCUs and the new White House administration, Vice President Mike Pence told the group how much he and President Trump “admire the contributions of historically Black colleges and universities,” and the administration was “committed” to ensuring HBCUs get “the credit and attention they deserve.” Ultimately, the visit was designed to serve only as a photo opp announcing an executive order that the onus of the White House Initiative on HBCUs would be transferred from the U.S. Department of Education to the executive branch of government.

And in the same political headwind, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos likened HBCUs to the “real pioneers of school choice.” As many, including the Chicago Urban League, reminded the world, Blacks were not allowed to attend predominantly White schools; therefore, they had no “choice” but to start their own institutions of higher learning. This is yet another example of the administration spreading a false narrative. Meanwhile, we are tasked with correcting the information before the masses accept it as truth.

Adding insult to injury, the United States Senate recently voted to throw out regulations that bolstered the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability and public reporting provisions. The regulations explained and clarified some key provisions in the law that were designed to protect vulnerable students. Signed by President Obama on December 10, 2015, this bipartisan measure reauthorized the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the nation’s national education law and longstanding commitment to equal opportunity for all students. This law ensures that states, districts and schools meet their legal obligations to historically marginalized groups of students, many of whom walk through the Chicago Urban League’s doors daily.

Chicago Urban League program participants like Diana B* and K’Shawn D*, who face systemic challenges, continue to thrive in a post-secondary environment thanks to advocates and organizations like the League. The civil rights protections included in ESSA make it clear that vulnerable students cannot be ignored and that key resources must be allocated to assist these students.

With changing of the guard in the nation’s highest office and blatant measures already taken that threaten the fair treatment of people of color, the future of Black education in America is uncertain now more than ever. Each day is filled with soundbites and “alternative facts” that make it hard to determine where one falsehood or inconsistency begins and another ends. The future of African American education hangs in the balance of politicians and big interests. At every point in the system, African American students living in poverty bear the brunt of an inequitable system and are at risk of having their dreams deferred. It appears that those in control are so far removed from the plight of marginalized people that our Black and Brown youth will suffer just as previous generations of Jim Crow Laws and even slavery.

How can we use our individual and collective voices and educational platforms to call out injustices and to help ensure that all students, regardless of race, background, economic status or zip code, are able to pursue their dreams?

Concerned citizen and Chicago’s own Chance the Rapper just donated $1M to the Chicago Public Schools Foundation. It’s this type of leadership and out-of-the-box thinking that sheds light on the importance of a quality education for all. While everyone can’t make major financial contributions, there are other ways to get involved in support of our youth. Attend public meetings, volunteer at local schools, write legislators about issues of concern including funding, safety, curriculum and equitable opportunities, to name a few.

The Chicago Urban League will continue to monitor how the educational landscape unfolds at the federal level while working in our community on behalf of the hundreds of students we serve annually. Active and consistent involvement in their lives helps ensure that their dreams are not deferred.

Let us not be afraid to speak up against unjust measures nor be paralyzed by the untruths of the news. Instead, we must let these things propel us to action, and make America’s educational system equitable again.

Danielle Parker4
Danielle Parker

Danielle S. Parker is the Director of the Center for Student Development for the Chicago Urban League, where she is responsible for the strategic planning, organizing and directing of all phases of the Urban League’s programs that serve students in middle school, high school and college. Parker has worked in the Chicago Urban League’s Center for Student Development since 2009. Parker received her bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Illinois at Chicago and her Master of Public Administration from Roosevelt University. In a Crusader exclusive, Parker presents the Chicago Urban League Series: The future of education for African American youth in a three-part series.

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