This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Accessible education is a faith and justice issue

I’ve had several conversations questioning the validity of the quote, “Now we are faced with an onslaught of potential annihilation,” in my March 16, 2015, column. People primarily focused on gun violence that happens among blacks. While this statement was a little dramatic, it highlighted the perils facing the African-American community.


Permit me to delve into the ways that have an annihilating effect on the black community.

My “annihilation” statement continued: “From violent attacks to legal maneuvering, African- Americans are being dispossessed.” This fact is often ignored.

Historical evidence points to a deliberate and systematic effort to rid America of its “black problem.” While the column pointed to physical violence against black folks, it’s not the only weapon. This exclusion is evident in education, health care and the criminal justice system.

Education has been a key gateway for citizens to achieve equitable inclusion in American society. As a former member of the Ann Arbor Board of Education and an educator, I am convinced of that fact. However, I have not seen commitment to educating our young African-American minds. Contrary to stated commitments, there’s been an increase in rhetoric with little action.

Once the 1954 decision dismantling “separate but equal” became reality, systems were implemented to keep “separate but equal” in place. Gerrymandering school districts, white flight and defunding education became principal tools to assure that black kids remained isolated. Although liberal school districts like Ann Arbor, Mich., sought to eliminate this problem, educational inequality persists.

White student attendance in Albion and Battle Creek schools, which have large student-of-color populations, has declined by 78 percent since 1970 due to white flight to the suburbs. White flight disrupts the economic and tax bases that are a primary source of funding for schools. Some African-Americans who have entered into mainstream America also leave for better schools. They cite white flight and deteriorating school conditions as their rationale for leaving.

Communities have demonstrated marginal interest in funding education where it’s most needed. Recently, Maryland approved funding for a $30 million youth jail in Baltimore while refusing to budget $11.6 million for schools.

Similar actions are occurring nationally. Schools in Inkster, Mich., with a majority African-American population, have closed for lack of funding. The only option is for children to be sent to another district. Once they are there, the cycle of middle-class retreat begins.

These strategies control and disempower marginalized youth and communities.

Low-income African-American and poor students are left with failing schools that are focused on keeping order and discipline. Experiencing seemingly hopeless conditions, many express anger through self-destructive behavior. Societies’ response is to fund more detention centers and place security measures in school buildings.

Equal and accessible education is a justice and faith issue. Nicole Baker Fulgham, president of The Expectation Project and author of Educating All God’s Children, says: “Breaking out of the cyclical nature of generational poverty is much more challenging for families and individuals without institutional help. . . . I submit, when people of faith are at our best, we answer God’s call to help those afflicted by injustice even when we have no apparent skin in the game.”

I have skin in the game. My grandchildren are not the only ones affected. All children and our communities are affected. Now is the time to build for the future.

What are you doing in your community?

John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., is a regional pastor for Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.

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