January 2016 roared in with lots of change in the air, and we’ve all responded in different ways. Personally, I’ve spent the past two weekends glued to the television, taking it all in. And, now I’m ready to get to work.
For me, that work will begin with an event tomorrow. My organization is partnering with American Enterprise Institute and Education Next to continue an important dialogue about race, social justice and education reform. It’s open to the public, and I encourage you to join us if you haven’t already registered. As someone who has chosen a career working on public education issues, I realize we are at a critical juncture. And today, more than ever, we stand on the verge of amazing opportunity for students, if we are willing to seize it.
Two weeks ago, I celebrated the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend the same as I have for the past 20 years – watching “Eyes On the Prize.” This 14-hour television documentary chronicles the civil rights movement in America, and is always a poignant reminder to me of our country’s rich history and how far we’ve come as a nation. It’s also a reminder that access to a good education has always been at the heart of the movement. When we think of the landmark civil rights cases like Brown v. Board of Education or Plessy v. Ferguson and laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, their impact on educational access and attainment are undeniable.
This past weekend, I watched the inauguration of our nation’s 45th president. I love the pomp and circumstance of the official ceremonies and traditions, but more than that I love hearing from real people who have come to Washington, D.C. to take part in our country’s great democratic process. Their stories are always so full of hope. And so many of them are hoping for a better life for their children. They understand that a good education stands at the core of that dream.
And of course, the backdrop to what I watched during both weekends is colored by the organizers on the ground…people who refused to be defined by others and created galvanizing social movements to effect change. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I didn’t see very much of this first-hand. Movements and protests are now dominating our headlines like I’ve never seen in my lifetime.
And wherever one stands on an issue, it is clear that a new generation of leadership is finding its voice. The movements and alliances that shaped our history to date will not be the same ones that mold the future. We need a new coalition, and the work begins now.