Remarks Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director, The Education Trust-West Remarks at California State Assembly Informational Briefing and Rally Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
SACRAMENTO, CA (August 28, 2013) – It is truly a privilege to be here and I want to thank Assemblywoman Weber for her leadership in commemorating the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The struggle against racial segregation that led to Brown v. Board and the March on Washington opened the doors of our public schools to many other marginalized and disenfranchised groups of students.
Fifty years may seem like a long time. But I grew up in the Deep South – in Memphis, Tennessee – at a time when the word diversity was represented by two colors: white and black. You were either one or the other. The March on Washington recognized that in the years after Brown, segregation did not disappear. Some states just ignored the ruling. In others, it was transformed into a different type of separate and unequal as white students went to private, all-white religious schools with every advantage and African-American students and others went to underfunded public schools. After spending my childhood in public schools, I entered one of those all-white private schools established after theBrown decision. As one of the first students of color, racism was part of my everyday experience. I was told I was less of a human being because of the color of my skin, my culture, my heritage, and my name. Back then, I would dream of living in a place where color, race and religion didn’t define you as a person. I wanted my children to grow up in such a place.
It is tempting to think that California is such a place. We are the most diverse state in the nation. My children are bi-racial and the names of their classmates are as varied and beautiful as our Oakland community. But the fact is that California remains deeply segregated by race and class. More fundamentally, we are segregated by outcomes. Based on current statistics, only 1 in 20 black and Latino kindergarteners will graduate from high school, enter our state university system and graduate in six years. It is more likely for a young black man to go to prison than to attend college.
This is the unfinished business of the March. It is the result of an educational system that has put the interests of adults ahead of the interests of children and blamed these poor results on children, their families and communities. Our children and communities deserve better. They deserve leaders who will acknowledge their strengths, god-given talents, and potential for success. We need our leaders to remember that our new favorite buzzword – local control – once had a very different meaning. In the 1950s and 1960s, it meant the right to maintain separate and unequal schools. Now, we have the opportunity to make it mean something different. But that will only happen if our state’s leaders remember that they are still responsible for ensuring equity and protecting the powerless – even when that means confronting powerful special interests and challenging the representatives of the educational status quo. The civil rights movement opened the doors of our schools. It remains our task to make those doors open into a better future for our children.